Uber taxi app official meets with City of Edmonton

A representative of the controversial smartphone taxi app Uber met with the city of Edmonton on Thursday.
Uber is seen on the iPhone of a driver. Uber has entered more than 100 markets, ranging from its hometown of San Francisco to Berlin to Tokyo. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

A representative of the controversial smartphone taxi app Uber met with the city of Edmonton on Thursday.

Garry Dziwenka, director of licensing with the city of Edmonton, said the 90-minute meeting was introductory in nature.

“We basically talked about their service, and how they conduct their business, talked about our bylaw and our requirements,” he said. “It was a friendly, get to know each other type of meeting.”

Dwizenka asked them about their pricing model and whether they intended to use city-licensed cars and drivers. They said that they would.

“In my estimation, they're a dispatch app,” Dziwenka said.

“Of course getting a cab to a customer quicker is always the goal of both the city and of the brokers that are involved in Edmonton. So anything that helps with that, that is a benefit.”

The San Francisco-based Uber operates in more than 150 cities around the world. The app allows users to directly summon a ride from cars for hire using their smartphones.

Pushback from cab companies and regulators in Vancouver and Calgary have forced Uber to abandon expansion plans there. The City of Vancouver shut down Uber in 2012 for violating city licensing and fee rules. 

In June, taxi drivers in London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid launched one of the biggest protests against Uber, saying the company is breaking local taxi rules across the European Union and threatening their livelihoods. 

Taxi companies in other cities have alleged that the service is unsafe. 

Uber says that’s not true as their app offers users information about the driver, including a photo and the vehicle’s license plate.

Jeff Weshler, general manager of regional expansion with Uber Canada, is philosophical about the intense pushback. 

“I mean change is never easy. and this technology platform is something new," he said

"You know smart phones didn't exist... ten years ago when a lot of these frameworks were developed. So it's about introducing something new into an ecosystem where there hasn't been a lot of change for decades."

Edmonton response

When he lived in Washington, D.C., Josh Bilyk, president of the Alberta Enterprise Group, used Uber up to ten times a week.

"It was effective, it was efficient, it was clean, it was easy to use ... it was just seamless,” he said. When he returned to Edmonton he was disappointed to see that Uber wasn't operating here. 

"It's no surprise cab service could be improved in Edmonton and this is a great opportunity for us to do that."

Balraj Manhas, president of the United Cab Drivers Association in Edmonton, doesn’t seem too worried about the app at this point.

"The major concern is they don't violate our city vehicle for hire bylaws and if they abide by rules set by the city then we have no problem,” he said.

Edmonton taxi driver Futuwi Hasen said if Uber started up in Edmonton, he would be the first driver to join up. 

"It will be cheaper for taxi drivers," he said. "We pay huge money for taxi then sometimes we can't even make that much money."

Dziwenka says no further discussions are planned. It’s now up to Uber to initiate any future meetings with the city of Edmonton.

With files from CBC's Andrea Huncar