Using human-centered design to update the regulatory system in Toronto


Rapid growth in the sharing economy inspired Toronto to adopt a holistic, user-centered approach to regulatory reform.


Steady expansion of Toronto’s sharing economy revealed limitations in the regulation of accommodations, transportation, and other sectors. In addition, existing operators resented that newcomers such as Uber and Airbnb were able to operate largely unconstrained by the city’s regulatory regime.


The City of Toronto teamed up with the MaRS Solutions Lab on a Sharing Economy Public Design project to rethink the regulatory landscape. Guided by human-centered design principles, the project gathered input from experts and stakeholders to uncover pain points and potential solutions. The project called for greater intra-government cooperation, reconsideration and revision of existing regulations, and a user-centered approach to designing new regulations. These ideas influenced Toronto’s 2016 Vehicle-for-Hire bylaw, which regulates taxis, limousines, and TNCs.



  • Autumn
    Uber opens its first Canadian office in Toronto, launches UberX in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal.
  • November
    City of Toronto files an injunction to halt Uber operations.


  • February
    The Mowat Centre, an independent think tank at the University of Toronto, release a report advocating user-centered approaches to policymaking for the sharing economy.
  • May
    Ontario Chamber of Commerce and PwC Canada convene forum on sharing economy.
  • July
    Ontario judge rejects Toronto’s injunction against Uber.
  • October
    MaRS Solutions Lab and the City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing & Standards (ML&S) department launch Sharing Economy Public Design Project and host a forum on the role of government in the sharing economy. Project team members conducted extensive interviews  with Airbnb hosts, hotel managers, taxi drivers, uberX drivers, and others. These conversations provided concrete insights into how the regulatory regime affected people’s lives.


  • February
    Province of Ontario launches a pilot project with Airbnb to inform hosts about tax requirements, consumer protection rights, accessibility, and other regulatory requirements.
  • March
    MaRS Solutions Lab and the City of Toronto release Shifting Perspectives report, which sets out a new proactive, user-centered approach to designing regulations for the sharing economy. Its conclusions are based on three workshops with regulators, industry representatives, sharing economy firms, insurance providers, and other experts.
  • May
    Toronto City Council approves new Vehicle-for-Hire bylaw that creates a private transportation company (PTC) license designation and includes provisions on data collection, accessibility, and insurance. “Shifting Perspectives” informed the creation of this bylaw.
  • July
    New Vehicle-for-Hire regulations go into effect.
  • August
    City of Toronto continues work on data-sharing agreement with Uber.
  • October
    City of Toronto begins to design new short-term rental regulations, slated for release in 2017.


  • May
    The Mowat Centre releases a report on Regulating Disruption, highlighting the need for a different approach to regulation in the 21st century.

Lessons learned

When it comes to the regulatory regime, governments should be proactive

The Shifting Perspectives report argues that cities need “to take a broader perspective and be proactive,” in shaping the sharing economy to the city’s advantage. By establishing a clear vision for the city’s sharing economy, mapping assets, and identifying opportunities, Toronto is now well positioned to design and implement regulatory reform in a more strategic manner.

Human-centered design principles can make regulatory development more collaborative, inclusive, and holistic

Human-centered design offers an approach to problem solving that is grounded in the lived realities and perspectives of those most affected. It creates space for stakeholders to engage in tough conversations and share their insights and ideas during the regulatory development process to create regulations that are “easy to understand, follow, and enforce” (Shifting Perspectives, 23).