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Uber’s new Toronto ad campaign aims to tackle ‘misinformation,’ but not all are convinced

Uber Canada has launched a new advertising campaign it says is meant to “correct the record” about the ride-share service in Toronto.

The campaign comes ahead of a city report due before council this spring, which will help city council determine whether a ride-share cap needs to be reinstated.

The ride-share cap issue has been contentious in Toronto since council unexpectedly voted in favour of the cap in October. At the time, Uber said a cap would hurt residents who rely on ride-share services and drivers who need additional sources of income during the affordability crisis. It threatened legal action in early December but ultimately withdrew it when council voted to rescind the cap. 

In city council debates around the cap last fall, Mayor Olivia Chow said placing a limit on licences would boost earnings for app workers by cutting down on competition and help limit pollution from vehicles.

But Uber says there have been “misunderstandings” about its impact in the city. As part of its campaign, the company argues drivers earn a livable wage and that ride-shares have a low impact on traffic congestion. The campaign also highlights Uber’s commitment to the environment and its push for drivers to switch to electric vehicles.

“We’d like to correct the record and share the facts about how we help support and connect riders, drivers and communities,” Keerthana Rang, a spokesperson for Uber Canada, said in a news release.

Some advocates tell CBC Toronto the campaign is misleading, however.

Thorben Wieditz is one such advocate. Wieditz is an organizer and researcher with RideFair TO, an advocacy organization that represents multiple groups, including some ride-share and taxi drivers. RideFair TO supported the city’s decision to introduce a cap. 

“It’s important to realize that Uber’s ad campaign is really only here to prevent city council from taking control over the sector and Uber is really scared of that,” Wieditz said. 

Advocacy group says parts of campaign misleading

Rang said the company wanted to launch the campaign to combat “myths” she says were perpetuated by city council discussions. 

One of the campaign’s messages is that out of the 52,000 ride-share drivers with licences, only seven per cent of riders are on the road at “any given time,” she said. 

“[Uber] is a flexible earning opportunity. But when you’re putting a cap on the number of drivers, this limits that,” she said.

A man with glasses
Thorben Wieditz, an organizer and researcher with RideFair TO, says Uber has launched its advertising campaign to fend off city regulations. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

The campaign also references city data suggesting only 3.3 per cent of Toronto’s traffic is caused by ride-share. However, that statistic is taken from a city report published in November 2021 that showed in the city’s core, about eight to 14 per cent of traffic was caused by ride-shares. The 3.3 per cent figure is for the city overall. 

Picking the smaller figure to present is one reason why the campaign is misleading, said Wieditz.

Ming Hu, a professor of business operations and analytics at the University of Toronto, told CBC Toronto it’s a fair point that not all 52,000 Uber drivers are on the road at the same time and says congestion cannot blamed solely on ride-sharing vehicles.

Debate over how much Uber drivers earn

But Wieditz says Uber’s campaign statements around drivers’ earnings also obfuscate how much they actually make.

As part of the campaign, the company says drivers’ median earnings for “engaged time” in Toronto for November 2023 were $33.35 per hour. 

That “engaged time” only refers to when Uber drivers have a rider in their car. It doesn’t account for operation costs including gas and vehicle maintenance.

RideFair TO published a report in January 2023 that showed Toronto Uber drivers earn an average of $7.90 an hour after costs associated with using a personal vehicle are deducted from their wages. Excluding those maintenance costs, drivers earn about $20 per hour, without tips included, the report shows. RideFair also averaged out earnings across all hours drivers were working, including time looking for rides. 

Hu agrees the earnings statements by Uber could be “misleading” because they only covers engaged time.

In statements to CBC Toronto, Uber said they support a guaranteed minimum wage standard and they’ve been advocating for “at least 120 per cent of the minimum wage during engaged time” as part of a proposal to provincial governments across Canada. 

It also says it’s been advocating for benefits for workers who complete an average of 20 hours of engaged time. 

Coun. Josh Matlow told CBC Toronto council will make its decision on whether a cap is necessary based on what’s presented in the report, he said. 

The city said in a statement that it’s aware of Uber’s ad campaign and that staff will present a report to executive committee in February with “options to limit the number of vehicle-for-hire and private transportation company driver licences, including advice on whether it is appropriate to exempt zero emission vehicles.:

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