EDMONTON – Setting a Canadian precedent, city council passed a bylaw Wednesday that will make ride-sharing companies like Uber legal in Edmonton.
When it comes into effect March 1, the new vehicle-for-hire bylaw (17400) will allow technology-based companies, like app dispatchers, to operate legally under a new class called Private Transportation Providers (PTPs).
“The regulatory framework in the new bylaw helps to answer citizen and business demand for more choice in the vehicle for hire industry,” Mayor Don Iveson said.
“It represents a significant evolution of the industry and creates a model that will enable the taxi business and Private Transportation Providers to co-exist.”
The rules state only traditional taxis will be allowed to pick up street hails or people waiting at taxi stands. Ride-sharing drivers can only arrange to pick up customers through an app.
Street hails, pick ups from taxi stands and trips arranged by telephone dispatch will be charged at a stipulated metered rate of $3.60 for the first 135 metres and $0.20 for each additional 135 metres or 24 seconds waiting time.
However, no vehicle-for-hire can operate in Edmonton without provincially-approved commercial insurance.
“Very clearly in the bylaw it says you have to have adequate commercial insurance,” Iveson said. “What that means right now is – in the absence of a new product that may or may not be coming forward for provincial blessing – you have to have the same kind of commercial insurance that a taxi or limo has right now. So if Uber drivers want to get that insurance – which I understand is quite expensive – then they would be able to register.
“We’ve heard different things about what Uber and their drivers may do in that scenario, but I think we’ve drawn a clear line in the sand that you have to have adequate insurance.”
One issue that councillors spent a lot of time discussing Tuesday was the issue of having a minimum fare or not and what that minimum fare would be. Under the hybrid fare model in the new bylaw, both taxis and PTPs must charge a minimum of $3.25 for any trip pre-arranged through an app or written contract. Rates above the $3.25 minimum can be negotiated between the PTP or taxi, and the customer.
“Which is just a way that council can say, ‘look, no one is going to give it away for free.’ No one should be that predatory to give away rides for free, that just undermines the market,” Iveson explained Tuesday.
“Council struggled with the question of whether to set a more formal set of minimums for the Private Transportations Providers, but in the end decided to take a wait-and-see approach,” he said. “I think there will be motions to monitor this.”
“There are trade-offs here, risks,” the mayor said. “But I’m glad we’re here.”
Under the bylaw, six months or less after ride-sharing is legally operating in Edmonton, there will be a debate on minimum and maximum pricing.
A motion Wednesday to have minimum and maximum time and distance fares for ride-sharing trips did not pass.
“This, to me… is over-regulation,” Councillor Michael Walters said. “And we know where over-regulation in the taxi industry in the past has gotten us.”
Under the new bylaw, drivers have to provide the City with proof of the proper insurance and class of driver’s licence. Criminal record checks and an annual vehicle inspection by a licensed garage and mechanic are also required. Fines for operating without a city driver’s licence or city vehicle licence will be $5,000, and regular enforcement of unlicensed vehicles for hire will continue.
“Edmonton is in a leadership position among Canadian cities in developing and implementing a response to ride sharing in the vehicle for hire industry,” Peter Ohm, acting branch manager for Current Planning, said.
“We will continue to closely monitor the impact of these changes and make adjustments, if necessary, to address potential issues, such as predatory pricing, that may negatively impact the industry,” Ohm added.
“What we passed yesterday is going to have a significant impact on the taxi industry,” Councillor Dave Loken said Wednesday. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about here.”
Many councillors said the bylaw wasn’t perfect, but supported third reading with the understanding revisions could be made if issues like predatory pricing or unreasonable surge pricing occur.
However, Iveson stressed, “We need an enforceable bylaw to ensure compliance.”
The Alberta Taxi Group was disappointed with council’s vote, saying the bylaw was passed without addressing a lot of the concerns raised by industry and councillors themselves.
“This bylaw is essentially exactly what Uber has asked for since the beginning,” Pascal Ryffel, spokesperson with the Driving for Equality campaign, said.
The group did say it was pleased the bylaw enactment date was moved up to March 1.
“We fully expect the city to finally crack down on Uber if they are still operating without the minimum requirements, such as drivers with class four licenses and provincially mandated insurance,” Ryffel said.
“There will be no more excuses to turn a blind eye to Uber’s illegal activity.”
However, Uber was happy with the decision. Uber’s general manager for Alberta, Ramit Kar, issued the following statement Wednesday evening:
“Uber applauds the City of Edmonton for its leadership in being the first Canadian jurisdiction to adopt progressive regulations that embrace ridesharing. We thank Mayor Iveson, councillors and city staff for supporting Edmontonian riders and drivers who want more affordable and reliable transportation options. While these newly adopted regulations contain concessions for ridesharing service providers, the rules put in place a workable regulatory approach. The spirit of collaboration and willpower demonstrated by the City of Edmonton to modernize its transportation laws can serve as a model for all Canadian regulators and elected officials.”
WATCH: Emotions were high as council debated proposed vehicle-for-hire bylaw amendments. As Vinesh Pratap reports, reaction got so heated, the public was forced out of council chambers.
During Tuesday’s debate, tensions boiled over and the meeting was temporarily stopped after shouting and chanting broke out in council chambers.
After city administration presented its recommendations, Councillor Mike Nickel introduced a motion to delay the debate until the Ward 12 byelection so that seat on council was filled before a decision was made. That motion was voted down.
Shortly after, members of the public started shouting in the council chambers.
“Please see yourselves out quietly,” Mayor Don Iveson told the people who started yelling and chanting.
The outburst continued, however, and a 10-minute recess was called.
“Shame! Shame!” taxi drivers shouted as they filed out of the room.
“It’s very troubling to see the kind of disruption that we saw today,” Iveson said after Tuesday’s meeting. “I understand tempers are high and we respect that but that can’t come at the expense of due process which was unfolding here with the elected representatives.”
Councillors started to reconvene at 3:08 p.m., more than 50 minutes after the recess was called. Taxi drivers were not inside council chambers.
“Police made the decision based on the conduct of the public,” the mayor said.
A monitor was set up in the City Room so that people could watch the council meeting. Inside council chambers, yelling from outside the room could be heard.
The public was welcome to attend Wednesday’s meeting as “long as there are no disturbances that disrupt council proceedings,” the city said. The council meeting went on uninterrupted,
WATCH BELOW: City Councillor Andrew Knack was on Wednesday Morning News to talk about the contentious debate surrounding ride sharing in Edmonton.
Uber Canada issued a statement Tuesday evening:
“According to a recent Nanos poll, the vast majority of Edmontonians want flexible pricing for ridesharing. While city council’s move today to establish fare minimums would allow us to continue to operate in Edmonton, additional attempts to set maximum or minimum rates would be unworkable and could prevent further innovation like uberPOOL. There are no ridesharing regulations in the world that place a cap on prices because regulators want to ensure reliability for riders and consumer choice. Uber continues to encourage city council to adopt the recommendations presented by city staff. ”
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