Winnipeg welcomes Uber: ride-hailing approved by city council

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft will be able to compete with taxis in Winnipeg as soon as March 1, after city council approve a new vehicle-for-hire bylaw Wednesday.

Sikh group claims community 'disvalued' by proposed city taxi regulations

City council has approved a package of regulations to govern taxis and new services such as Uber and Lyft, which could operate in Winnipeg as soon as March 1, 2018. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft will be able to compete with taxis in Winnipeg as soon as March 1, after city council approve a new vehicle-for-hire bylaw Wednesday. 

Council voted 10-6 to approve a package of rules intended to increase the number of taxis on Winnipeg's streets as well as their competition.​

Just prior to the vote, Mayor Brian Bowman said the overwhelming majority of Winnipeggers support more choice when it comes to taxi services.

Six members voted against the vehicle-for-hire bylaw: Couns. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan), Russ Wyatt (Transcona), Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan), Ross Eadie (Mynarski), Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) and Shawn Dobson (St. Charles). 

Many who opposed the bylaw cited concerns about a lack of consultation with stakeholders and an incomplete analysis on the effect Uber and Lyft might have on taxicab drivers whose livelihoods are on the line.

"Who's the economist who looked at this?" asked Eadie. 

Council voted 10-6 to approve a package of rules intended to increase the number of taxis on Winnipeg's streets as well as their competition.​ 1:32

Delay motion fails

Prior to the vote, Eadie and Lukes moved to refer the bylaw back to Bowman's executive policy committee for further input from groups like taxicab drivers. The motion failed.

Bowman said public servants already have a short amount of time to prepare for the March 1 deadline the province set out. 

"I will not be supporting delay, simply because we have a limited number of days to meet the provincial legislative requirements," he said. 

The city's regulations call for the city to issue 60 new taxi licenses in March, another 60 at the end of the year and then monitor population levels to ensure there is at least one taxi for every 1,203 residents. The current ratio is one taxi for every 1,555 Winnipeggers.

Bowman said new licenses are necessary in part because there is no guarantee any ride-hailing apps will be ready to start operating in Winnipeg in March.

Taxis allowed to use diamond lanes

The city will not regulate the number of Uber and Lyft drivers on its streets, but will not allow them to be flagged down on city streets or to accept cash payments, as taxis are allowed to do. Uber and Lyft drivers must undergo the same criminal background checks and vehicle-safety certifications as taxi drivers, but won't have to install shields.

The west gallery in the city council building is nearly full for the final council meeting of the calendar year. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The plan also calls for regular taxis to drive in diamond lanes for a year as part of a trial that is opposed by cycling lobby group Bike Winnipeg and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who supported the vehicles for hire bylaw, said taxis had long asked to be able to use the diamond lanes.

"There has been a lot of consultation," she told council. "This is the art of the compromise."

A surcharge of three cents per ride-for-hire trip will go toward safety measures. Gerbasi said Manitoba Public Insurance could consider using part of this levy toward informing drivers about how to share the road safely with cyclists. The mayor supported the idea.

Coun. Janice Lukes said the city should consider an additional levy on Uber and Lyft rides to go toward Winnipeg Transit.

It will cost the city $1.3 million to regulate all vehicles for hire, but the city expects to recover this money from taxi licenses and fees from taxis and services such as Uber and Lyft.

The dissolution of the provincial taxicab board left this task in the city's hands.

Earlier Wednesday, representatives from Uber and Lyft spoke in favour of the city's regulations.

Prashanthi Raman, Lyft's Chicago-based policy director, reiterated the safety benefits of ride-hailing technology, which include GPS vehicle tracking, cashless transactions and the disclosure of driver and passenger identities.

"These are the most robust driver-screening background processes I've seen in Canada, to this council's credit," said Chris Schafer, Uber's Toronto-based public policy manager for Canada.

"These are the weakest safety regulations in Canada," countered Scott MacFadyen, who represents Unicity and Duffy's Taxi.

City accused of systemic racism 

During the morning portion of the debate, Coun. Wyatt accused the city of engaging in "systemic racism" through its dealings with the taxi industry.

Gerbasi demanded he withdraw that comment, but was overruled by council speaker Sharma.

​The Sikh Society of Manitoba claimed the regulations "disvalue the Sikh community and other minority groups" because of the effects the new rules will have on the taxi industry.

In a letter to Mayor Brian Bowman and other members of council, the Sikh Society of Manitoba president Sukhdev Singh Brar asserts taxi industry voices have not been heard.

"We feel that by disvaluing the entire industry, you disvalue the Sikh community and other minority groups," Brar writes in the letter.

Jaspal Bedi, Sikh himself and vice-president of Duffy's Taxi, said he does not believe taxi drivers in Winnipeg are being discriminated against but he does believe farmers in Manitoba are treated more fairly than members of his industry.

"We haven't had proper consultation. This is really being rushed through," he said. "1,600 families are impacted by this. They should take more time to get it right."

Bedi said taxi drivers only had a week to look at the bylaw, which largely resembles existing bylaws in other Canadian cities. The main unique feature of Winnipeg's rules, according to Bowman, is the three-cent surcharge for safety measures.

Coun. Lukes said Wednesday Winnipeg's executive policy committee first began talks with Uber in 2014 and had plenty of time for fulsome talks with stakeholders.

She called the consultation process for Winnipeg's vehicle-for-hire bylaw "disingenuous."