By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) - Aviva Canada aims to offer ride-sharing insurance to Ontario drivers who use their own vehicles to carry paying passengers starting next month, a service that could solve a major headache for ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL].
The Canadian subsidiary of Aviva plc <AV.L> said the coverage is the first time it will offer ride-sharing insurance anywhere in the world.
Insurance was a major bone of contention in a raucous debate at Toronto city hall in late September, when the council voted to write new transportation rules that would apply to Uber and its ilk and asked the Silicon Valley-based company to stop operating while they did so.
The policy extension will be available to existing Aviva personal auto policyholders for drivers that spend up to 20 hours a week looking for or driving paying passengers.
A source with knowledge of the proposed product said a typical driver with Uber or other similar services would likely pay C$150 a month, or between 10 and 15 percent of the average income earned by such drivers.
Commercial coverage for taxi drivers, who have vigorously opposed Uber's business model, typically costs between C$4,000 and C$12,000 a year, depending on driving history and whether the cab has secondary drivers or is operated in a fleet.
Many have complained that the UberX service undercuts taxis on price by avoiding costly licensing and insurance.
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), responsible for approving all insurance products sold in the province, said it has had preliminary discussions with Aviva and others about ride-sharing insurance but did not confirm receipt of Aviva's proposal.
The provincial finance ministry also suggested the filing was not yet in the hands of the arms-length agency.
"We are confident that once this filing takes place, FSCO will review Aviva's new product in a timely fashion to ensure that drivers and passengers are protected," Ontario's Finance Ministry spokeswoman Kelsey Ingram wrote in an email.
Aviva said it will work with regulators across the country to make the product more widely available in coming months.
The move by Aviva preempts a similar product planned by rival Intact Financial Corp's <IFC.TO> insurance arm, which said in September it was working with Uber and regulators on tailored insurance products for its drivers.
"We are encouraged to see a growing number of Canada’s insurers show interest in innovation in the transportation space," Uber Canada spokeswoman Susie Heath said.
(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Diane Craft)