September 4, 2015 11:16 am
Updated: September 4, 2015 7:32 pm

Proposed bylaw would allow Uber to operate legally in Edmonton

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WATCH ABOVE: The city is looking to make changes to allow for services like Uber. Here’s Vinesh Pratap.

EDMONTON — The City of Edmonton is proposing a Vehicle for Hire Bylaw that would allow technology-based companies like ride-sharing app Uber to operate legally in Edmonton.

The new bylaw would essentially make Uber drivers much like existing taxi drivers. It would require Uber drivers to undergo a criminal record check, have their vehicle inspected yearly and acquire a licence from the city.

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They would also need a commercial insurance policy with appropriate liability coverage similar to that used by a taxi operator; personal insurance would not be adequate.

“This is a recognition from council I believe that the world is changing, technology is changing,”said Scott Mackie, Current Planning Branch Manager. “We need to adapt and ensure we’re keeping up with it.”

The bylaw would also bar private transportation providers like Uber from picking up flag-down fares. The Vehicle for Hire Bylaw is intended to balance the interests of the public and operators.

“To ignore this technology is to allow a situation to continue where there are these … bandit cabs, this sort of black market that I don’t think we can ignore any more,” said Councillor Scott McKeen. “The other thing is technology has changed the market so much that we can’t ignore either the demands of consumers.”

McKeen said he’s received dozens of emails from citizens asking for Uber. While he admitted he’s “not a fan” of the company’s response to the city or the way it’s conducted itself, McKeen doesn’t think Uber is going away any time soon. Ultimately, the councillor said he felt duty bound to keep people’s safety as the top priority, which is why having sufficient insurance is a requirement.

READ MORE: Uber launches online petition against City of Edmonton

“This is an attempt to try and find a way to say to them, ‘we’re going to reduce some of the demands, but you still have to get insurance.'”

“Our role is to not give anybody a competitive advantage,” added McKeen. “You want the marketplace to work as it should – and that be about, sure, price, but also service, quality of the vehicle.”

For months, the city has been battling Uber to comply with current Vehicle for Hire bylaws. In April, a provincial court judge denied the city’s request for an injunction against Uber.

READ MORE: Judge denies Edmonton’s request for injunction against Uber

The city said if bylaw is passed, Edmonton would be first major city in Canada to allow mobile app dispatchers like Uber.

“There may be many members of the Edmonton population that don’t feel that Uber is a service they want to use,” said Mackie. “But council, I believe, wants to examine whether in fact this is an option that we should provide to the citizens of Edmonton.”

However, the United Cabbies Association of Edmonton said Sept. 4 is like “Black Friday” for the taxi industry.

“It’s a very sad day for the city taxi industry,” said president Balraj Manhas.

“The playing field is not fair at all.”

“For Uber-type companies, they’re [the city] easing everything there. For us, for so many years, they were so many regulations put upon us.”

READ MORE: Edmonton cabbies urge city to crack down on Uber 

Manhas said this proposed bylaw “will almost finish the industry.”

“Number of taxis is a big issue here,” he explained. “We don’t have that much clientèle and this is another back-door entry for more cabs in the City of Edmonton.”

Uber declined an interview with Global News but the released the following statement:

“We commend Mayor Iveson and Edmonton City Council for being among the first Canadian cities to propose regulations for ridesharing,” said Uber spokesperson Xavier Van Chau.

“We look forward to working with the city on rules to promote the interests of riders and drivers.

“Regulations that require ridesharing drivers to individually obtain licences and pay high fees just to get on the road are unworkable, as most driver partners sign up on a short-term or part-time basis,” said Van Chau.

“With such rules, riders face the prospect of higher prices and unreliable service. Other cities that have regulated ridesharing have instead adopted a model that licenses ridesharing companies directly.”

The Vehicle for Hire Bylaw will be present at a non-statutory Public Hearing on Sept. 16. Manhas vows traditional taxi drivers will be there to oppose it.

There is no timeline when the proposed changes might take place.

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