City passes first reading of bylaw to legalize Uber
Some councillors frustrated by slow pace of change
Edmonton made very little ground on its plan to legalize Uber at a much anticipated council meeting on Tuesday -- frustrating some members of council who are eager to move forward.
Councillors approved the first reading of a proposed bylaw, which would create a new class of license to accommodate services like Uber.
But rather than give it final approval, council asked administration to do some more research and consultation first.
Coun. Michael Oshry said he's frustrated by council's decision to stall.
"Council keeps trying to get these things perfect, and we're never going to get it perfect," Oshry said.
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Councillors ordered city administration to give them more information about their options when it comes to Uber.
At least one major debate still to come
"We really don't have very much hard information about what's going on in other cities with Uber," Coun. Dave Loken said. "I think our administration needs to do a lot more work in that respect."
City staff have until Jan. 26 to come up with the information. That's when councillors will debate some of the finer points of their plan.
As it stands, the bylaw requires Uber to pay nearly $1,000 every two years for each of its drivers.
"That kind of up-front fee is not really the way to go," Mayor Don Iveson said.
Iveson hopes the province will have made progress on its efforts to regulate Uber by then, with some clear guidelines for licensing and insurance.
"I'd have much greater comfort approving these rules … if we knew that there was an insurance product that was in place," he said.
The other major debate ahead will be over whether or not Uber's fares should be regulated.
Several councillors said there should be an "even playing field" between Uber and taxi drivers when it comes to fares, who must abide by rates that set by the city.
Coun. Scott McKeen said he would like to impose a minimum fare to prevent companies like Uber from squeezing taxis out of the market with super low prices.
"Why would we not prevent a race to the bottom on rates?" he asked city staff.
But Iveson said it's unfair to impose the same restrictions on Uber drivers as the taxi industry.
"We're not talking about a level playing field, we're talking about two completely different sports," he said. "One that's rec league and one that's pro."
Council pushes for more enforcement
Uber has been operating illegally in Edmonton since January 2015.
With no rules in place specifically targeted toward Uber, licensing director Garry Dzwenka said it's very difficult to enforce against drivers who operate illegally.
Passing the proposed bylaw would have given the city a stronger leg to stand on if it pursued another injunction against the company.
"I wanted to get it passed, get it so we can actually enforce the bylaw," Oshry said.
Once it finally is passed, Dzwenka said his department will need more resources to carry out enforcement.
In a written statement, Uber Alberta's general manager Ramit Kar said the company is happy with council's decision to delay the bylaw.
He said the company is "deeply interested" in becoming regulated in Edmonton, but more time is needed for staff to study the industry.
Meanwhile a large group of Edmonton's cab drivers say they're disappointed that council is moving forward with its plans.
"They are trying to please an illegal multinational corporation," said Manjunder Punia, a taxi group spokesperson and driver.
He said industry members associated with the taxi groups will meet again after Tuesday's meeting to discuss their options to fight the proposed regulations.
CBC reporters Laura Osman and Janice Johnston covered the debate in a live blog.