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Transit union fighting the ‘Uberization’ of Edmonton transit

Click to play video 'Ride sharing and Edmonton public transit' Ride sharing and Edmonton public transit
WATCH ABOVE: Could private ride-share services become a small part of Edmonton's public transit system? New details are emerging about how the future could look. Here's Vinesh Pratap.

Major changes are coming to the vehicle for hire bylaw and Edmonton transit regarding companies like Uber and TappCar.

A memo, obtained by 630 CHED, from the president of the transit union to members suggests the city is planning on dropping Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) from lower volume areas and replacing it with subsidized ride sharing.

ETS Uber memo
A memo obtained by 630 CHED talks about possible plans to subsidize ride sharing in place of transit service. Supplied

Bylaw changes will be covering off, what Councillor Mike Nickel calls, the shortcomings that have plagued the industry from the get go. While those amendments are coming, parallel changes for ETS prompted the union to hold a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

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“I’m not going to be putting any spoiler alerts out there,” Nickel said. “I think we’ve solved a lot of the major areas about dispatch ambiguity, about enforcement, questions regarding identification of vehicles, and the issue of street hailing.

“These issues needed to be tackled because right now in my opinion the whole bylaw was lopsided.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Transit says fall service shakeup yields results, more changes coming

But while Uber and TappCar and others will be dealing with new rules that include smaller decals to make things more of an even playing field, ride share companies and taxis appear to be ready to pick up some business that ETS will drop.

“This is another example of the City trying to privatize another City Department,” the memo read. “We need to be proactive and fight this before it begins!”

The memo also calls for the creation of an action committee to help with “dealing with City Councillors, advertising campaigns and programs to inform the people living in the areas affected.”

“Basically we’ll call it what it is. It’s a service withdrawal from low riding areas, that’s under boardings per hour. I think we’re just going to keep the door open to all kinds of innovative services,” Nickel said.

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“It’s got to be a good sound business decision first.”

READ MORE: Edmonton expands free transit program to include vulnerable adults

“For me personally it was making sure that seniors had a choice,” Councillor Andrew Knack said. “If they wanted to use a taxi cab, wonderful; if they wanted to use a ride sharing service and they don’t have a smart phone, I think they should also have that opportunity but we’ll explore that in more detail when the report comes back.”

Knack said the possible changes take care of the first mile, and last mile when buses are diverted to more busy routes.

“There are people who still rely on that late night bus, but as we know and we see it through our ridership numbers it’s usually a handful of people.”

“So is the best approach continuing to run a large bus with a bus driver, or are there different ways we can deliver that, and that’s the point of the transit strategy review and finding out if there are more efficient ways we can be delivering that.

“We still want to make sure people have service, but does it always have to be the exact same type of service?”

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The vehicle for hire reports are scheduled to go to community and public service committee on June 19. No final date has been set for the transit strategy review from ETS but it is expected to be before city council July 5.