February 29, 2016 2:30 pm
Updated: March 1, 2016 11:29 am

Uber temporarily suspends operations in Alberta’s capital

WATCH ABOVE: Ride sharing service Uber may have been give the green light from the City of Edmonton, but that isn't enough. As Erin Chalmers explains on the Morning News, the Alberta government has refused to sign off on the deal until July 1 - which means Uber has put the brakes on rides until then.

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EDMONTON — Just hours after the Alberta government announced specific regulations surrounding ride-sharing services in the province, one of the industry’s giants announced it would temporarily suspend its operations in Edmonton, although it said it would continue to operate in surrounding areas.

Uber made the announcement Monday night after Alberta’s minister of transportation said the province will require ride-sharing drivers have a Class 4 licence, police check and commercial insurance.

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Brian Mason said “an interim insurance product that will provide adequate coverage to Uber drivers and their passengers will be in place” by July 1.

 

On Monday night, Ramit Kar, Uber’s general manager for Alberta, responded by issuing a news release announcing the company was temporarily suspending its operations in Edmonton as of  6 a.m. on March 1. The statement said:

“With no action by the NDP government on ridesharing, the Province has cost thousands of Edmonton families a source of income by forcing Uber to suspend operations in the city. Uber will respect the government’s decisions, and a temporary suspension will take effect at 6:00 AM on March 1st unfortunately depriving tens of thousands of local riders a safe, affordable and reliable transportation alternative.

Uber will continue to work with officials in Alberta in the hopes of bringing ridesharing back to Edmonton soon. Given the city bylaw applies within the city limits of Edmonton, we will continue to enable ridesharing services in surrounding areas.”

WATCH: The province has laid the ground rules when it comes to ride-sharing in Alberta. With time ticking, it’s anybody’s guess if Uber will be operating in Edmonton tomorrow when the new city bylaw comes into effect. Vinesh Pratap reports.

For his part, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the province’s regulations “very common sense-ical” and said he hoped new ride-sharing services could be operating in the city by Stampede, July 8 to 17.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said it was a positive step to have a timeline from the province for establishing proper insurance. He stressed the bylaw would still come into effect March 1.

Mason said action will be taken by the province in three areas:

  • Interim insurance product approved by superintendent of insurance by July 1;
  • Class 4 licence for all vehicle-for-hire drivers;
  • All ride-sharing drivers must have a police information check.

“I’m aware that Uber has expressed reservations about the Class 4 requirement,” Mason said, however “professional drivers need to be among the best on the roads and the Class 4 licence helps makes sure that is the case.”

The Class 4 licence is mandatory for commercial passenger transportation in most provinces in Canada. Currently in Alberta, the regulation exists for taxis and other passenger transportation services.

“Following an investigation by Alberta’s superintendent of insurance, Uber drivers were found to not have adequate insurance,” the minister said.

He explained the superintendent worked with Intact to develop a ride-sharing insurance product.

“Our plan ensures customers who use ride-for-hire services are safe, that the people who transport have the necessary skills and knowledge, and that there is insurance in place in the event of an accident,” Mason said.

Watch below: Mason speaks about ride-sharing policies in Alberta

Mason said Uber requested the requirement for a Class 4 licence be replaced with a requirement for a Class 5 licence. Mason said he reviewed the company’s concerns but ultimately, had to prioritize public safety.

“My top priority is to ensure passengers as well as drivers are safe,” Mason said.

He also said the government took into account the municipal bylaws in Edmonton and Calgary.

“I hope that Uber is able to operate under our plan,” Mason said, adding that public safety has to be the paramount consideration.

He said people are entitled to protest, but “our responsibility has always been protecting the public and we’re not going to be dissuaded from that.”

On Monday night, Ramit Kar, Uber’s general manager for Alberta, responded by issuing a news release announcing the company was temporarily suspending its operations in Alberta’s capital as of March 1. The statement said:

“With no action by the NDP government on ridesharing, the Province has cost thousands of Edmonton families a source of income by forcing Uber to suspend operations in the city. Uber will respect the government’s decisions, and a temporary suspension will take effect at 6:00 AM on March 1st unfortunately depriving tens of thousands of local riders a safe, affordable and reliable transportation alternative.

Uber will continue to work with officials in Alberta in the hopes of bringing ridesharing back to Edmonton soon. Given the city bylaw applies within the city limits of Edmonton, we will continue to enable ridesharing services in surrounding areas.”

Mason said the government decided very early on that it wouldn’t get into issues like fare regulation and would simply focus on the public safety issue.

“We limited it to two things: to make sure that people are insured when they get into a vehicle… and secondly, when they get into that vehicle, they’re going to be as safe as possible.”

READ MORE: Edmonton becomes first city in Canada to legislate ride sharing 

At the end of January, Edmonton city council made amendments to the city’s bylaw in order to make ride-sharing services like Uber legal in Edmonton.

One requirement though, is that the drivers have adequate commercial insurance.

While the revised vehicle-for-hire bylaw comes into effect March 1, ride sharing would still technically be illegal in the absence of provincially-approved insurance. Mason said Monday it would be up to the City of Edmonton to decide whether it would enforce its vehicle-for-hire bylaw before the commercial insurance is available July 1.

“It won’t be ready for tomorrow,” he explained.

In an earlier statement, Kar said:

“With provincial approvals coming July 1, Minister Mason stated that Mayor Iveson and Edmonton city council can choose to harmonize the city’s timeline with the province and support thousands of local families who rely on ride sharing as a way to earn or travel affordably.”

However, the mayor said the bylaw will come into effect March 1 and any operators who don’t follow the rules will be subject to enforcement.

“There’s no mechanism for council to delay the implementation of the bylaw,” Don Iveson said.

“It will come into effect tomorrow, as it should, and it will create more opportunities for innovation and competition across the vehicle-for-hire space.

“I understand for one particular company – namely Uber – they are talking about shutting down until the insurance issue is resolved. If they operate without insurance, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Edmonton-based TappCar welcomed the announcement.

“It doesn’t really change anything for TappCar because we were planning on following the rules from the very beginning,” spokesperson Pascal Ryffel said. He added TappCar already planned to have full, comprehensive commercial insurance. Ryffel planned from the beginning to compete with other transportation companies. TappCar plans to launch in mid-March.

“We think this makes it clear the province is putting the safety of Albertans first, which of course, is very important,” Ryffel said.

READ MORE: Uber pressures Alberta to act on insurance, licensing before March

The City of Calgary approved a new set of ride-sharing regulations last Monday. The guidelines are in line with the province’s announcement: drivers must undergo police background checks, be properly insured, hold proper Class 4 licences and have their vehicles undergo safety checks.

Calgary city council’s approval meant the bylaw would start April 4, allowing service to become legal then. But following the approval, Uber Alberta director Ramit Kar told reporters it was “unacceptable” and claimed there were too many costs associated with meeting the regulations. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said at the time he is open to hearing from other ride-sharing companies like Lyft entering the Calgary market if Uber decides not to operate in the city.

“Uber had four points of contention,” Nenshi said, suggesting two were no longer on the table following the province’s announcement. “The third had to do with inspections, and we moved from twice-yearly inspection to once-yearly or every 50,000 kilometres, whichever comes first, which I think significantly addresses Uber’s concern.”

“I think we still need to do the proper, big 134-point inspection, takes an hour or so, rather than the five-minute $30 inspection. I think most riders prefer that. So that means that it really is about money. And Uber, if they want to come to the table with a new fee process which still allows the city to cover its costs so we’re not subsidizing them, I’m very happy to listen to that.”

Nenshi previously said he is open to hearing from other ride-sharing companies like Lyft entering the Calgary market if Uber decides not to operate in the city.

On Saturday, Uber supporters held a rally in downtown Edmonton, urging the province to approve ride-sharing insurance.

READ MORE: Ontario insurance regulator approves coverage for Uber drivers in Canadian ‘first’ 

The Ontario regulator recently approved an insurance product, which the Insurance Bureau of Canada described as the first coverage of its kind in the country.

The company involved – Aviva Insurance – said it would be interested in expanding to other Canadian markets, including Alberta.

READ MORE: Intact insurance working with Uber on new products for ride sharing 

Intact has also said it is working on a ride-sharing insurance product that could be used by drivers in Edmonton.

With files from Vinesh Pratap.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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