City warns of crackdown as Uber rideshare launches in Edmonton

Uber launched its uberX rideshare program in Edmonton on Thursday with fanfare as city officials promised to crack down on the unlicensed service should it starting charging for rides.

Official says city will start issuing fines if Uber drivers charge for rides

Garry Dziwenka, the vehicle for hire director for the City of Edmonton, warned that city enforcers would be watching Uber "intently," and would fine any drivers caught charging passengers without a licence. (CBC)

Uber launched its uberX rideshare program in Edmonton on Thursday with fanfare as city officials vowed to crack down on the unlicensed service if it started charging for rides.

Uber drivers spent the day offering free rides and doing on-demand pickups of winter clothing donations around Edmonton – which is fine for now, said Vehicle for Hire director Garry Dziwenka.

However, Dziwenka cautioned they would be on the lookout for any "bandit" taxi driver who takes money from a passenger.

“If they are caught operating an Uber taxi, they will be subject to a $1,000 fine under the vehicle for hire bylaw and a $400 fine for the business license bylaw,” he said.

The service uses a smartphone app to connect drivers who use their own vehicles to give rides to others, offering fares cheaper than a traditional taxi company.

Unlike city taxis, Uber drivers operate without the Class 1, 2 or 4 licence required under the Transit Safety Act, and are not licensed by the city.

The program is also violating other city taxi requirements which states all vehicles must have city licence plates and be recognizable by a certain colour pattern, Dziwenka said. Taxis also must pass city-mandated mechanical inspections.

Uber says its drivers must first pass a police background check and a thorough review of their driving record.

City considers injunction 

When asked if Uber tried to work with the city before launching, Dziwenka replied, “Define ‘work.’”

“They met with me, they told me their business model, but they made it clear to me that they had no intention of being licensed,” he said. “They consider themselves an app – a technology company – not a transportation company.”

Dziwenka said the city will be watching Uber “intently” and may seek a court injunction to prevent the company from operating.

Former mayor Bill Smith was the ceremonial first rider when uberX rideshare launched in Edmonton on Thursday. (Uber)
The controversy didn't stop former mayor Bill Smith from taking the ceremonial first ride in an Edmonton Uber vehicle Thursday morning. 

“It’s great to see innovative and new business models like Uber come to Edmonton,” Smith said in a statement.

“I’ve always believed that embracing change is the best path to success. Uber’s technology will create opportunity and more transportation options for our citizens, helping this city continue to grow.”

Uber's general manager of regional expansion Jeff Weshler was also on hand at the launch. 

“Uber’s arrival in Edmonton marks an exciting moment for the residents of Alberta. By providing a service that responds to the needs of today’s riders and drivers, we are helping advance the way people and cities move,” he said.

Uber first launched in Canada in 2012. Edmonton is the fifth Canadian city the rideshare service has set up in.