Uber says it expects to bring its ride-hailing service back to Calgary within weeks after city council approved bylaw changes Monday that make the city's licensing fee structure more favourable for the company.
The changes were approved by an 11-4 vote, with Couns. Ray Jones, Shane Keating, Jim Stevenson and Andre Chabot opposed.
A spokesman for Uber said the company was "pleased" by the move, which will allow more flexibility for its drivers.
"As we've said, these changes will allow us to offer service to riders and drivers by early December and we'll be sharing our exact launch date with Calgarians soon," Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said in an email to CBC News.
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The ride-hailing company that allows drivers to use their personal vehicles to ferry people around for a fee initially launched in Calgary — in contravention of the city's existing bylaws at the time — in October 2015.
The city obtained an injunction in November 2015 and the company agreed to cease operations in Calgary while new rules were hashed out to allow ride-booking companies to operate on city streets.
In February, the city approved a new bylaw allowing for so-called transportation network companies (TNCs) to operate in the city provided they pay an annual licensing fee of $1,753 and a per-driver fee of $220. Drivers are also required to obtain police background checks and appropriate insurance.
However, Uber officials said the rules were too onerous for them to operate, as the per-driver fee made it financially difficult for part-time drivers, in particular, who make up a large portion of the company's driving team.
Since February, several smaller TNCs have opened up shop in Calgary but they only have about 80 vehicles on the road, between them, according to city staff.
New fee structure includes per-trip fee
The new rules adopted Monday give TNCs a choice to use the old fee structure or a new one which charges an annual TNC fee of $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the size of the company's driver roster, plus a $15 per-driver fee and a 20-cent per-trip fee.
The TNC fee scale works as follows:
- 1 to 100 drivers: $5,000
- 101 to 500 drivers: $10,000
- 501 to 1,000 drivers: $15,000
- 1,001 drivers or more: $20,000
The new fee structure was approved as a one-year pilot project with council to review the changes in 2017.
Taxi fleet to expand by 222 vehicles, too
At the same time Monday, council also voted to release 222 more taxi plates to augment the city's existing fleet of 1,659 licensed taxis.
Mario Henriques, the city's chief livery officer, said many in the taxi industry who opposed to the Uber-friendly bylaw changes said that, if the new rules were to be adopted against their wishes, they'd like to have more taxis put on the streets at the same time.
That would better enable taxis to compete with what could be a massive new entrant to the market, Henriques told council.
"The feedback that we've received is the preference from drivers and taxi brokers is to release more plates," he said.
Most cab drivers in Calgary don't own the special licence plates that taxis are required to carry and instead rent them from plate "brokers."
Mayor Naheed Nenshi opposed releasing more plates, saying it's a move that would help brokers more than drivers, who pay as much as $300 per week in rent.
"I have spoken with many, many drivers — and I will tell you those are the drivers who don't have their own plates — and they have said the economy is bad, they're waiting hours for fares and diluting that means $3.5 million in income directly to the brokerages and making the drivers suffer even more," the mayor said.
The release of the plates was approved by a 9-6 vote, with Nenshi, along with Couns.Gian-Carlo Carra, Sean Chu, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Druh Farrell and Brian Pincott voting against it.