November 6, 2014 8:10 pm
Updated: November 6, 2014 10:37 pm

Uber flirts with Edmonton expansion, but city bylaw could stall progress


Watch above: Reps for the ride-sharing app Uber are in Edmonton meeting with potential drivers. But, does the service comply with Edmonton’s bylaw? Emily Mertz finds out.

EDMONTON – Representatives from Uber — a ride-sharing app — are meeting with potential drivers in Edmonton. However, the city says becoming a legal Uber driver here could be difficult.

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Uber is a ride-sharing service that uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire.

In early October, Uber started advertising for drivers in Edmonton. The company was seeking potential Uber Black (commercial vehicles) drivers and potential Uber X (private vehicles) drivers.

Uber representatives were in Edmonton the first week of November “for sessions where potential partner drivers can learn of future opportunities with Uber.”

A spokesperson for the company said the meetings were part of its “ongoing process to continue to explore expansion in a number of cities across Canada.”

Garry Dziwenka, the director of the City of Edmonton’s licensing and vehicle for hire department, said it looks like the first step in Uber coming to Edmonton.

Vehicle for hire bylaw

However, the city’s taxi service is governed by the vehicle for hire bylaw which covers what taxi brokers, drivers and vehicles need in order to be licensed.

READ MORE: Uber continues to face resistance in Canada 

Dziwenka says anyone interested in driving for Uber would have to comply with the city bylaw.

“They would have to get a City of Edmonton taxi driver’s licence.

“To get one, you need to bring in an abstract and police clearance. We look at them and review what’s on it. You also have to take an English language test and a defensive driving course.”

The Edmonton regulations don’t just dictate requirements for drivers, but also for the vehicle itself and the taxi broker.

“Under the city bylaw they need commercial insurance, and they usually get that through fleet insurance with their broker,” explained Dziwenka. “Uber has advertised that they accept personal insurance.”

In a statement to Global News, Uber said its driving partners are covered by commercial auto insurance in addition to the driver’s personal insurance.

“Uber themselves would have to come in and get a broker’s license,” he added. “To do so, they would to have five of the plated vehicles signed up to them as a broker, they would have to have their own colour, then they would get a broker’s business licence.”

In Edmonton, each taxi company has its own colour for its vehicles.

City of Edmonton taxi licence plates

So, if someone obtained a taxi driver’s licence, they’d still require commercial insurance as well as a taxi licence plate, of which there are a limited number.

“The City of Edmonton’s taxi industry is a closed system, meaning that there are 1,319 plates out there,” said Dziwenka.

“The city does not have any of these plates to give out.”

“They would have to go to a current plate licencee, and get the plate transferred from that person,” he explained.

A vehicle operating as a taxi that does not have a taxi plate from the city is known as a bandit taxi. They are illegal in Edmonton.

The regulations exist to keep passengers safe, says Dziwenka.

“If you get into an unlicensed taxi, the city does not know who is driving that taxi, they don’t know the condition of the vehicle, and they do not know what insurance is being carried by that taxi, so you’re putting yourself at risk.”

Dziwenka doesn’t believe Uber could operate legally in Edmonton under the current bylaw.

“They would have to comply with our bylaw, get a broker’s licence and ensure the cars have city plates and their drivers have city taxi driver’s licences.”

Uber in Edmonton?

Uber says it has met with city officials in Edmonton to “introduce them to the Uber platform, as well as the many benefits that stem from access to additional transportation options, and look forward to continuing those discussions.”

It adds “Canadians all over the country have been asking us to come to their towns, and we are excited to explore opportunities.”

WATCH: Debate over ride-sharing app Uber continues

In September, Mayor Don Iveson asked city administration to review the app and the potential issues the service would have with the city’s current vehicle-for-hire bylaw.

“I did the inquiry because I want to get a clean report that explains to citizens why we have a vehicle for hire bylaw, why we regulate the taxi industry, and it’s because the people that drive cabs are subjected to criminal record checks, it’s because their vehicles are insured and have to maintain certain standards of maintenance so that we know they are safe.”

Uber says its driving partners undergo an “extensive screening process including criminal screenings at both the federal RCMP and local police level, as well as a full review of the driver’s motor vehicle record.”

It says in Toronto, potential Uber partners are screened over their lifetime for potential DUI, traffic or sex offences, and local taxis companies are only required to screen the past five years.

The company is based in San Francisco and operates in 40 countries, including Canada, in cities like Toronto.

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