Edmonton taxi drivers rally at Legislature before ride-sharing bylaw debate

EDMONTON — Local taxi drivers gathered at the legislature Monday afternoon to voice their support for what they call a fair and safe vehicle-for-hire industry.

Approximately 100 taxi drivers and their supporters turned out for the rally at the Alberta legislature, hoping the province will wade into the debate.

“We want to remind people that this isn’t just a municipal issue in Edmonton,” said Pascal Ryffel, a spokesperson for Driving for Equality Campaign, Alberta Taxi Group. “It’s something that affects people right across Alberta.”

The group would like to see the industry municipally and provincially regulated.

He said the biggest concern is safety.

“The bylaw as it stands before council still does not address all the safety issues,” said Ryffel. “If you take a taxi, you are protected. There are safety cameras and panic buttons, and safety shields, but none of that would be required if Uber was to operate in Edmonton under the proposed bylaw.”

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The proposed bylaw would make Edmonton Uber drivers very similar to taxi drivers. It would require Uber drivers to have a city license, undergo a criminal record check, have their vehicle inspected annually and pay for commercial insurance.

READ MORE: Report on proposed Edmonton vehicle-for-hire bylaw released

Uber said the fee structure would shift costs from ride-sharing drivers to ride-sharing companies, making its business unsustainable in the city.

“As it’s written, the fee structure is actually the most expensive in the entire world for ride-sharing.

“And as a result, it’s completely unsustainable to continue ridesharing in Edmonton,” said Ramit Kar, Uber general manager for Alberta.

The ride-sharing company said several amendments need to be made to avoid a forced shutdown.

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

The taxi industry also remains leery of the proposed bylaw, citing concerns about safety for the public and drivers. Also at issue: the number of drivers able to operate within city limits.

“If you have a completely open system, where there are an unlimited amount of drivers, it becomes impossible to have full-time, professional drivers in the city,” said Ryffel. “That makes it very unreliable.”

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Taxi drivers have a list of amendments they would like to see made to the proposed bylaw when council discusses it on Tuesday.

In a statement Monday, Uber said a petition supporting the company has nearly 15,000 signatures.

“Riders love Uber because it connects them to a safe, reliable and affordable ride at the push of a button, drivers love Uber because it provides them a flexible earning opportunity and cities love Uber because it gives residents and visitors a reliable ride when they need one, reduces congestion and decreases impaired driving,” said Jean-Christophe de le rue. “Yet Edmonton city staff have chosen to look backwards and proposed bylaw revisions that will force Uber to shut down in Edmonton.”

“On Tuesday, we hope that city council will support innovation, ride sharing and Edmontonians,” he added.

Tuesday’s debate is expected to draw a large and potentially emotional crowd, so much so that in a rare move media members interested in attending have been asked to obtain accreditation.

READ MORE: Taxi drivers break out in angry protest at Edmonton city council meeting meeting

In September taxi drivers packed council chambers, yelling and protested when councillors discussed changes to the bylaw. Some people even started banging the walls on the concourse of council chambers.

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At least one driver took off his shirt, saying it was a symbol of Mayor Don Iveson trying to take the shirt of his back.

RAW VIDEO: Taxi drivers break out in angry protest at Edmonton city council

Uber currently operates in 40 cities across Canada.

The company has been in Edmonton for just under a year. Those looking for a ride use a mobile app to connect with a Uber driver, who picks them up with their personal vehicle.

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