EDMONTON – City council did not make a new vehicle-for-hire bylaw law Tuesday, but the contentious issue did pass first reading.
Mayor Don Iveson said he didn’t feel the bylaw was ready, but said council’s decision was a step forward.
“Whether they’re active and participating in the cabbie industry, whether they’re Uber drivers, or whether they’re citizens who are interested in having more choices…we’ve had a lot of feedback on this and a lot rests on council’s decision,” said Mayor Don Iveson.
“I’m pleased that today we’re taking a very deliberate step forward by passing first reading of the bylaw that indicates we do need to modernize our vehicle-for-hire bylaw. I think we knew that before we came in here this morning.
“How exactly we reconcile some of the challenges around: are we going to have minimum pricing for private transportation providers? We weren’t going to settle that today. We’ve asked administration to do some more work on that,” Iveson said.
During Tuesday’s discussion, council members talked about potential minimum fares for ride-sharing companies, altering the fee structure for private transportation providers and insurance.
“Trying to negotiate that here, through this process, doesn’t make sense. So we passed first reading and we’ve sent the bylaw back with some instructions to bring forward options for council to consider,” said the mayor.
City council referred the bylaw back to administration. A report addressing those issues and the question of insurance will come back to council on Jan. 26.
“I’d have much greater comfort approving these rules… if we knew that there was an insurance product that was in place,” Iveson added.
The mayor said, until the new year, he continues to caution people that, as far as the city understands, the current insurance for ride-sharing providers is inadequate.
“I think today actually really just shows how much of a mess this proposed bylaw is,” said Pascal Ryffel, a spokesperson for Driving for Equality Campaign, Alberta Taxi Group.
“Very little was accomplished.”
Uber had a different take.
“We are pleased with today’s decision from Edmonton City Council and we will continue to work with municipal officials,” said Ramit Kar, general manager for Uber Alberta. “More time is needed for city staff to study the evolving for-hire transportation industry and more work is required to develop smart regulations for ride-sharing in Edmonton.
“We will continue to communicate with council how eager we are for regulatory oversight that embraces ride-sharing. We are deeply interested in being regulated here in Edmonton as we already are in close to 70 jurisdictions in North America.”
Security was heightened at City Hall Tuesday ahead and during the council meeting. At a previous meeting, taxi drivers shouted, banged on council chamber walls and some even took their shirts off in protest.
Both Uber and Edmonton taxi drivers were seeking amendments to the proposed draft bylaw.
Edmonton’s new draft bylaw would create a special class of licence for private transportation providers like Uber, very similar to taxi drivers. It would require Uber drivers to have a city licence, undergo a criminal record check, have their vehicle inspected annually and pay for commercial insurance.
The fee structure would shift costs from ride-sharing drivers to ride-sharing companies, which Uber claimed would make its business unsustainable in the city.
The ride-sharing company said several amendments need to be made to avoid a forced shutdown. 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 Edmonton passes a vehicle-for-hire bylaw that incorporates ride-sharing companies it would be the first in Canada to set such rules.
“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 Pascal Ryffel, a spokesperson for Driving for Equality Campaign, Alberta Taxi Group.
“That makes it very unreliable.”
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 Uber spokesperson 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.
On the same day, Edmonton Taxi Brokers and drivers announced their city-wide taxi app. The app – called Taxi Commander – allows customers to request the closest taxi and pay for the ride in-app.
“While some members of City Council continue to try to accommodate illegal and uninsured transportation options, the Taxi Drivers and Brokers in Edmonton have banded together to offer a legal, safe and insured solution,” said the taxi brokers and drivers group in a news release.
The app is available for Android, iPhone and Windows phones.
Tuesday’s debate drew a packed house. In a rare move, media members interested in attending were asked to obtain accreditation.