Thursday, 20 November 2014

It's Time That The Insurance Industry and Regulators Begin Accommodating Ride-Sharing Services

Uber, a San Francisco-based company estimated to be worth $17 billion (U.S.) is aiming to shake up the taxi business in Toronto.

Uber is reported to operate in more than 140 cities in 40 countries around the world, offering taxis, limos and car-sharing services, allowing customers to bypass traditional taxi companies and brokerages to request a ride using their smartphones.

When Uber first set up in Toronto in 2012, city of Toronto officials informed the company that it needed to get a brokerage licence. Uber disputed the request and has been insisting that it is not a taxi service, but rather a technology company, and therefore not subject to licensing requirements. The city has since hit Uber with 35 bylaw infractions and now the city is headed to court in an attempt to get an injunction to shut down the service. 

Toronto Mayor-elect John Tory is correct.  Uber and similar ride-sharing services aren't going anywhere.  Consumers like these new services and that's why there are using them.  Using a smartphone app, you will be told when the vehicle will arrive, who is the driver, the rating of the driver, the cost of the ride with tip and will allow you to pay for the ride without handling any cash.  No need to be standing in the cold or wet on a street corner waving your arm frantically trying to get a passing cab to stop.

The current regulated taxi model is archaic and costly.  The city limits the number of plate owners which has created wealth for plate owners who are often not the drivers. The dispatcher system is out of date when technology allows drivers and consumers to link up directly.  However, there is a lot of money tied up in the current system.  To make matters worse, the regulators appear to be very tied to the existing model.

The one thing that Uber is not short on is money.  They will fight this court battle as they have in other jurisdictions.  They typically come out on top.  Regulators should be designing new regulatory models to accommodate new technologies not fight them.  For example the Ontario Ministry of Transportation is working on a regulatory framework for driverless vehicles.  The insurance regulator and the insurance industry needs to develop insurance products that reflect these new technologies whether it is driverless cars or ride-sharing services.  

The insurance industry needs to recognize that ride-sharing is likely here to stay and properly underwrite these risks to protect drivers and their clients.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

No New Auto Insurance Commitments in 2014 Ontario Fall Economic Statement

The auto insurance focus of this year's Ontario Economic Statement is consumer protection although not everyone is going to agree that these measures are strictly to protect consumers. The statement provides a summary of government activity that is ongoing.

The government claims it is taking steps to keep auto insurance affordable.  As a result of the government’s Auto Insurance Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy, FSCO rate approvals fell by than six per cent on average from August 2013 to August 2014. Although it is not always clear what impact that will have on the paying public.  However, the commitment was for an eight per cent reduction during that time period.

The government has taken action to address over half of the recommendations made by the Auto Insurance Anti‐Fraud Task Force, including key proposals to enhance the Financial Services Commission of Ontario’s (FSCO) investigation and enforcement authority and make it easier for individuals to report suspected auto insurance fraud.

Licensing of health service providers in the auto insurance system, a key Task Force proposal, will become fully effective on December 1, 2014.

The government is also committed to establishing a Serious Fraud Unit, whose initial mandate would include addressing auto insurance fraud. Establishing such a dedicated investigation and prosecution unit would be consistent with the Task Force’s conclusion that cases of suspected auto insurance fraud should be vigorously pursued and prosecuted where evidence warrants.

Bill 15, the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act, 2014, is working its way through the legislative process and has recently had second reading and undergone a very brief review by a legislative standing committee.  If passed, Bill 15 would:

  • Transfer Ontario’s auto insurance dispute resolution system to the Licence Appeal Tribunal and make significant changes to help injured drivers settle disputed claims faster; 
  • Regulate the towing and vehicle storage industries through measures that tackle questionable practices; and
  • Give the government authority to change the current 60‐day period that a vehicle can be stored after an accident, accruing charges, without notice to the owner. 
Rates are directly linked to claims costs.  So in addition to reducing fraudulent activity and abuse, Bill 15 also will reduce costs in the system.  That is where some of the controversy lies.  The government plans to align prejudgment interest rates on pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) to what are typical rates in today’s market. That will reduce the rate to 1.3% (from 5%) on pecuniary damages.