Uber Canada representatives are in Winnipeg Wednesday to talk about how the ride-sharing service could change how people get around the city.
Chris Schafer, Uber's public policy manager, said the service competes with personal vehicles, not taxi companies.
Last month, Duffy's Taxi and Unicity Taxi formed the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance to fight Uber's potential incursion into the Winnipeg market, highlighting the benefits of using a regulated taxi over taking an Uber car.
Schafer said Uber's presence in Winnipeg would actually mean more business for cabs.
"When you give people another choice to make in the marketplace for transportation, that's safe and principally more reliable and more affordable, what happens to the ground transportation industry? That pie grows," said Schafer, adding the company has seen similar opposition from jurisdictions around the world.
"We don't look at taxi as a competitor. Frankly it's a complementary service, but more principally we've got our eyes focused on a bigger competitor and that's the personal automobile, and through new choices that are safe, affordable and reliable, giving people an opportunity to live car-free or car-lite lifestyles."
Uber is eyeing several Canadian markets and "Winnipeg is definitely one of them," Schafer said.
"The demand from consumers is very high. They're looking for new transportation options to get around their city and I know a number of them open the Uber app hoping and looking for a ride in downtown Winnipeg."
Schafer said he expects opposition from cab companies will eventually die down.
"We're in a period of change. Technology is changing the way we work, play and get around our cities," he said.
"There's often a lag in legislators catching up with technology. That will catch up and over time the established industry will adjust and remain competitive and we'll continue to do our job and keep our customers and driver partners happy."
Uber doesn't have any firm timeline set for when it might be operational in Winnipeg, Schafer said, adding he believes the company already has the support of Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.
Schafer is also in talks with provincial officials about getting licensed in Manitoba, he said.
Winnipeg mayor 'champion for innovation, crowd-sourcing'
Bowman said Wednesday he's already met with Uber officials and suggested he is open to the ride-sharing service.
"Look, I have long been a champion for increased innovation, new technologies and crowd sourcing," he said.
But he stopped short of full support for the service. Speaking with reporters after his executive policy committee met this morning, Bowman said it's not the city's call whether Uber starts up here.
"Let's also be clear the Taxicab Board is responsible for regulating the taxi industry," he said. "My focus is really on the priorities of Winnipeggers and that's quite frankly, to fix the roads so that when and if Uber is here in Winnipeg they have better roads to drive on."
Bowman said he trusts the Taxicab Board, which is a provincial agency, is doing its due diligence.
"I'm certainly not an expert [on Uber]. I have never used the service. I have met with them just to learn a little bit more," he said. "I would encourage increased dialogue with the Taxicab Board and the Taxicab Board chair. I know if they're in town, I hope and trust that they'll be meeting with the Taxicab Board to have those discussions."
Winnipeg Taxi Alliance 'not hostile to competition'
The coalition formed to oppose Uber's coming to Winnipeg said Wednesday they aren't against competition.
"We aren't hostile to competition, but the members of the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance are concerned with the manner Uber has conducted itself in other cities and countries," Luc Lewandoski, coalition spokesperson, said in a news release.
"This company has consistently thumbed its nose at local laws and regulations designed to protect passengers, drivers and the local transit system."
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"Like many technological aspects of modern life, there is something shiny and new about these emerging companies, however Winnipeggers must be careful and wary of the past and current behaviour of Uber elsewhere because that shows us how they would conduct themselves here," Lewandoski continued. "We want Winnipeg to have a strong transit system and a healthy environment for passengers and drivers alike."