Uber and taxis in Edmonton followed the rules better in 2017, city says

Uber and traditional taxis appear to be sharing the streets better than in 2016 when Edmonton legalized ride-sharing services, according to an annual update prepared for city council.

Violations of the city's vehicle for hire bylaw down nearly 24 per cent in 2017

Ride-sharing companies like Uber are not allowed to pick up customers by being hailed from the street. The city gave out 12 tickets in 2017 to drivers breaking this rule. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Uber and traditional taxis appear to be sharing the streets better than in 2016 when Edmonton legalized ride-sharing services, according to an annual update provided to city council. 

In the report prepared for this week's meeting of the community services committee, the city gave out 269 tickets under the vehicle-for-hire bylaw in 2017, a drop of 23.5 per cent from the year before.

"This trend reflects a favourable change in behaviours demonstrated by the industry," the report says. 

The city gave out 221 tickets in 2016, but Uber only operated for eight months that year.

The bylaw went into effect March 1, 2016. Uber pulled their cars off Edmonton streets until July 1 when the province approved an insurance policy specifically for ride-sharing companies.

Uber argued that commercial insurance was too expensive for their drivers. 

Edmonton's vehicle-for-hire bylaw outlines rules for traditional taxis and companies like Uber, which book rides through a smartphone app.

The bylaw requires valid driver and vehicle licences, mechanical certification and insurance. It also requires cars to properly display information like the driver's name and a current photo.

"Some people in the vehicle-for-hire industry were concerned the City of Edmonton wasn't doing the necessary enforcement," Coun. Andrew Knack told CBC News. "I think report shows that they are." 
Coun. Andrew Knack led the movement to change the city's taxi bylaw and regulate ride services like Uber. (CBC)

Phil Strong, president of the Greater Edmonton Taxi Service, disagrees and believes the statistics are skewed. He thinks the city keeps a closer eye on the taxi industry, in part because it's more visible.

"Uber vehicles are harder to spot," he told CBC News Monday. "A lot of them don't have their proper signage up, which is an infraction." 

Edmonton cabbies see Uber drivers picking up people hailing from the street, which they're not supposed to do, he said. 

"You just have to hang out at different bars and stuff or at the the end of a game at Rogers Place when people come out," Strong said. "People are flagging them down and that's not allowed."

The competition must be a level playing field, but it's not, he said.

"The enforcement is not done on Uber vehicles like it is on the taxi industry," Strong said. 
Phil Strong, president of Greater Edmonton taxi service, believes the city monitors the taxi industry more closely than it does Uber drivers. (CBC )

In 2017, the city performed 5,524 license plate checks and 1,286 patrols of special events like hockey games and concerts, the report says. 

The report shows taxi, limousine and dispatch licences generated $987,000 for the city, while fees from 'transportation network companies' — ride-sharing companies like Uber and TappCar —​ raised $482,000.

A surplus of $209,000 was posted to the vehicle for hire reserve fund. 

Knack believes having both Uber and traditional taxis in Edmonton is working.

"There was a lot of fear, originally," he said. "There was a lot of concern about what that is going to do to the industry."

That concern was expressed through raucous protests at city hall before Uber was allowed to drive legally.

Taxi drivers turned up to a council meeting in September 2015, chanting and removing their shirts in a symbolic gesture indicating ride-sharing would hurt their business.

Awareness campaign 

The report shows the most tickets — 65 — were given to drivers who failed to provide a mechanical inspection certificate.

The city gave out 41 tickets to ride-sharing vehicles that lacked dispatcher marking. 
About 100 taxi drivers brought their cars to city hall on Wednesday to protest the presence of Uber in Edmonton. (CBC)

Twelve tickets were issued to drivers who violated the street hail rule. 

Companies like Uber are not allowed to pick customers up on the side of the street. They must be called ahead of time.

Knack thinks these statistics show greater compliance with the rules. 

"So that's better for any individual who wants to use — whether it's a taxi, whether it's a ride-sharing company —​ that any of those choices are going to be safe for the people who want to use them," he said. 

Billboards aimed at educating customers were displayed in high traffic areas and at bars, restaurants and post secondary institutions from Dec. 1, 2017 to Jan. 14, 2018. (City of Edmonton)

The city plans to launch an awareness campaign this year to let people know what they should expect from taxis and ride-booking companies.

The city was the first municipality in Canada to allow Uber to operate legally.