Edmonton may welcome Uber if insurance issues resolved, mayor says

Once questions about Uber's insurance are resolved, Edmonton may be able to come to an agreement with the ride-share app Uber, according to Mayor Don Iveson.

Proposed regulations anger taxi drivers, Uber calls them unworkable

Taxi drivers honked horns and chanted 'shame, shame, shame' at the Uber supporters who were holding a rally in front of Edmonton city hall Wednesday. (Terry Reith/CBC News )

Once questions about Uber's insurance are resolved, Edmonton may be able to come to an agreement with the ride-share app Uber, according to Mayor Don Iveson.

Uber executives, drivers, and supporters were among the hundreds of people who packed city council chambers Wednesday afternoon during a public hearing on new regulations that would make the company legal.

Company executives explained to council that they are working with Intact Insurance on a policy specific for ride-share drivers.

"I cannot in good conscience sanction a business activity that has that kind of public safety risk," said Iveson.

"That's the big issue, I think, for many of our councillors. The rest of it is getting with the times."

He said the city is in a grey zone, and cannot accept liability for an activity that is not properly insured. But, he said, the company offered good feedback and seemed willing to collaborate. 

The hearing followed some tense moments at a demonstration in Churchill Square, as separate rallies for both Uber and Edmonton taxis clashed.

Taxi drivers chanted "shame, shame, shame" at Uber supporters while calling on Iveson to resign.

Despite the confrontations outside, both groups inside council chambers were calm while issuing passionate statements before council, asking the city to ammend it's plan.

Hundreds of taxi drivers and some Uber supporters filled city council chambers to capacity for a public hearing on vehicle-for-hire regulations on Wednesday afternoon. (Terry Reith/CBC News)
Councillors are looking at regulations that would allow Uber, a ride-sharing service, to operate legally. As of 12:45 p.m., 244 applicants had registered to speak.

The proposed rules, which would compel Uber drivers to buy a licence from the city and have proper insurance coverage, have angered Uber, taxi companies and taxi drivers with licences.

Taxi drivers say they are still being treated unfairly because under the proposed regulations they have to pay higher costs and play by different rules.

The drivers' joint action committee said the taxi business has declined by 40 per cent since Uber arrived in Edmonton in December.

Driver Husni Al Khatib asked councillors to think of cab drivers and their families whose livelihoods he said are at stake.

"We are human beings," said Al Khatib. "Uber doesn't care. It's a faceless technology."

Uber executives also oppose the city's proposed bylaw, even though it would make their operations legal.

Uber says the costs would be too high for drivers to bear. Michael Van Hemmen, policy manager for Uber Canada, said if the plan is approved as it stands, Uber will either have to leave, or service will suffer.

He said the city should instead regulate the company, rather than drivers.

"Edmonton would not be taking a risk," he said, pointing to 65 cities in the USA which have adopted similar regulations.

Iveson said input from the public and taxi industry will help council decide if more changes need to be made to taxi regulations as well.

On Monday, a group of taxi companies, including Greater Edmonton Taxi Services, Alberta Co-Op Taxi Lines and 24-7 Taxi Line, filed a lawsuit against Uber alleging the company is intentionally flouting the city's vehicle-for-hire bylaw and the Traffic Safety Act.

The claim also alleges Uber is fixing prices in violation of the federal Competition Act.

The public hearing is expected to continue for several days.



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