As dozens of cab drivers sat in the gallery at Winnipeg city hall, Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle approved new regulations governing taxis and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft on Wednesday.
After nine hours of delegations and deliberations on Wednesday, city council's executive policy committee voted unanimously in favour of a package of regulations governing vehicles for hire in Winnipeg. The city will start regulating taxis and other services on March 1.
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Those regulations call on the city to issue 120 new taxi licences immediately to increase the supply of cabs.
Scott McFadyen, who represents Unicity and Duffy's Taxi, urged the city hold off on issuing new taxi licences until the city assesses supply and demand.
McFadyen said the city has not taken enough time to consider the ramifications of the new regulations. He noted the city has spent years considering the reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians.
"This has way more impact and you're rushing it through," said McFadyen, speaking directly to the mayor. "To rush this through is reckless. It's an affront to democracy."
McFadyen also said there should be regulations in place to ensure new services such as Uber and Lyft are regulated.
"We don't want Uber to be the Napster of public transit and have everyone illegally downloading their rides," he said during a presentation that included a testy exchange with Bowman.
The mayor warned McFadyen to stop interrupting him three times.
"I think the more respectful the discussion, to me, the better," Bowman told reporters during a break in the meeting. "I don't think it's constructive, nor do I think it's persuasive on his part to be interrupting members of council repeatedly. So that's why I asked him to try to have a bit more decorum."
McFadyen said the mayor should not have been surprised by the tenor of the exchange.
"You know what? We're not going to go in and be best friends with people that have shut us out of the consultations. Why would we do that? The mayor needed to hear that we were upset today. It took us two years to get a meeting with the mayor," he said.
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Three representatives from Lyft and one from Uber also attended the meeting.
Uber Canada public policy manager Chris Schafer said his firm intends to be ready to operate in Winnipeg on March 1.
He praised the city for developing vehicle-for-hire rules that incorporate the best aspects of similar regulations in other Canadian cities.
For example, Uber and Lyft drivers in Winnipeg will not be required to have safety shields and in-car cameras, which are required in taxis. Other Canadian cities have determined that location-sharing data from the Uber app as well as the ability for drivers and passengers to rate each other keeps both parties safe, he said.
"Every single one of them have concluded all those things are unnecessary in ride-sharing vehicles," he said.
Lyft public policy policy manager Prashanthi Raman said more than 80 per cent of her company's drivers work for Lyft fewer than 15 hours a week, using personal vehicles.
"To establish a shield or something like that in their car is potentially more onerous for them," she said, adding her firm engages in comprehensive background checks and doesn't use cash transactions.
Neither Schafer nor Raman would predict how many vehicles Uber and Lyft would operate in Winnipeg, respectively.
She said she is hopeful Lyft will be ready to operate in Winnipeg on March 1. Toronto will be the company's first Canadian market, she said.
The vehicle-for-hire vote took place after dozens of delegates addressed executive policy committee. Mayor Brian Bowman cut a delegation by taxi-industry representative Ajay Chopra short, claiming he was not sticking to the subject at hand.
In October, Bowman accused Chopra of threatening him in some manner. Chopra denied any threat took place.
Bowman also told the committee his office fielded a call from a woman who claimed she missed a doctor's appointment because no cabs were available on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt told EPC the new regulations will wipe out the taxi industry. Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who used to sit on the provincial taxicab board, asked for a review of the city's new regulations.
Wyatt also accused the Progressive Conservative provincial government of saddling the city with additional responsibilities, while North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty blamed the NDP opposition for delaying the passage of ride-hailing legislation and ultimately placing the city under the gun for developing regulations of its own.
City council will vote on the vehicle-for-hire regulations on Dec. 13. The plan may be amended before that vote.