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Hamilton moves to open fact-finding discussions with Uber

The general issues committee has given the green light for staff to make contact with Uber to understand its intentions for Hamilton. The question is, will it listen?
Hamilton's General Issues Committee has given the green light for staff to make contact with Uber to understand their intentions for Hamilton. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Hamilton will reach out to ride-sharing service Uber to understand its intentions for Hamilton, an approach Mayor Fred Eisenberger commended as a proactive for the new city council.

"This is sweeping the world whether we like it or not," Eisenberger told the general issues committee Wednesday as it gave the green light to the talks with Uber, a taxi-like service which uses an app to connect drivers and passengers, circumventing taxi regulations in the process. "Let's make sure we at least understand what's coming our way." 

Councillor Sam Merulla originally made the motion to reach out to the ride-sharing app, which has been met with a heavy-handed approach in other Canadian municipalities.

Let's make sure we at least understand what's coming our way.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Toronto council originally set out for a court injunction to stop the San Francisco-based company. The newly elected John Tory recently said cities need to get with the times and that "these kinds of technological changes are here to stay."

In Hamilton council, the tone was more of an inquisitive one, rather than one with a welcome mat, as several councillors voiced concerns. 

Merulla said the purpose of the meetings was to find out Uber's intentions for Hamilton and determine their feasibility.

Coun. Terry Whitehead added that, while in favour of reaching out, he had concerns about how Uber would be regulated within the city, since it would not answer to licensing boards. 

Uber has previously said it screens its  driver's criminal background and driving records. Last week, the company said it would be open to discussion in a statement issues Thursday. 

"We are always prepared to work together in moving forward with policy makers and regulators to develop guidelines that promote more transportation options and ensure public safety," said company spokesperson Xavier Van Chau.

"The Competition Bureau has supported ride sharing and digital transportation network services while differentiating them from traditional taxi services in Canada. Uber agrees with their view that new transportation options — such as Uber — offer better prices, convenience and service to consumers and should be codified with their own sensible regulations."

Uber made headlines recently when it was banned in New Delhi, India, after a passenger accused a driver to rape. The driver appeared in court Monday.

Outside of council, Whitehead said regulating drivers, their cars and their insurance was one of his main concerns. He added other stakeholders, such as insurance companies loaded with additional liability, could come into play soon. Until then, the city appears to be on a fact-finding mission on what Uber has in store for Hamilton. 

"It delivers a lot of vulnerable people. That's why we have a lot of regulations," Whitehead said. "What happens when you have some other group coming into the community that doesn't have to answer to any of those [licensing boards]?"

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