WATCH ABOVE: Since launching in December, Uber has had its share of controversy in Edmonton. On Tuesday, it all came to a head. Jessica Kent explains.
EDMONTON — After more than six hours of debate, city council passed a motion late Tuesday evening to apply for an injunction against Uber — a ride-sharing service that matches drivers with passengers — until the company complies with current city bylaws.
For the first time, those for and against the ride-sharing app Uber had a chance to officially have their thoughts heard on Uber and Edmonton’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw.
By the time the meeting got underway around 3:45 p.m., council chambers were filled with hundreds of taxi drivers who were eager to weigh in on the debate. Many argued that Uber is threatening their livelihood, without having to adhere to the same rules they have to.
“I am 55 years old. If you push me out of my job right now, who is going to hire me?” asked one local taxi driver.
Council also heard from an insurance expert, a representative from Uber, and dozens of others.
Finally around 10 p.m., council passed a motion that would see administration meet with stakeholders over the next few months and renew the discussion in the fall. The city is asking Uber to temporarily suspend its operations in Edmonton until council decides to change current regulations, or Uber complies with the vehicle-for-hire bylaw.
Uber came to Edmonton in late December, but under the city’s current vehicle-for-hire bylaw, drivers are considered ‘bandit taxis.’
There are four main issues at the heart of the Uber debate:
1. Safety: the background checks done by the company aren’t verified by the city, so critics of the company say it’s more dangerous for passengers. Uber, however, says its cars are safer because it’s a cashless system so everything is paid for through the app.
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2. Economic issues: cab drivers say because Uber’s fares aren’t regulated, it’s not a level playing field. In response, Uber says it would be happy to let Edmonton taxis lower their rates to meet Uber’s.
3. Legal issues: Uber drivers are considered unlicensed taxis under current bylaws, meaning they could face over $1,400 in fines if pulled over. Uber says the company is not a taxi company, but a technology company, so the bylaws shouldn’t apply.
4. Liability issues: the Insurance Bureau of Canada says by using a third-party ride sharing app in a personal vehicle, with personal insurance, you are essentially uninsured. Uber says if a claim was to be denied, its $5 million liability coverage would kick in.
Safety and liability issues appear to be among Mayor Don Iveson’s key concerns relating to Uber in Edmonton. But he admits the issue needs to be examined more closely.
“Clearly something needs to change in our regulatory framework,” said Mayor Don Iveson before the motion was passed.
“I mean, most people agree there needs to be more supply, vehicles out there — particularly in the evenings…I think everyone agrees that safety needs to be regulated; and that right now, Uber is not necessarily operating with all of the stringent safety standards that we expect of a vehicle company. And that’s disappointing.”
In an email to Global News, Uber spokesperson Xavier Van Chau wrote: “Mayor Iveson, members of City council and the Edmonton public have all made comments clearly indicating that the status quo does not meet the needs of local residents. We look forward to working with city council to help draft new regulations that seek to embrace new transportation alternatives like ridesharing.”
When asked whether Uber will agree to withdraw its services temporarily from Edmonton, the Uber representative responded: “It’s premature to make any assessment at this time but we remain committed to contributing to a solution that serves the best interests of riders, drivers and the general public.”
With files from Nicole Wiart, Global News
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