Manitoba·Feature

Edmonton's example shows Uber rules need to be flexible and fair

Winnipeg has just under a year to come up with a new bylaws to regulate the taxi industry, including online ride services like Uber.

Ahead of ride-hailing's arrival in Winnipeg, Alberta could provide bylaw roadmap

Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said Monday Bill 30, the Local Vehicles for Hire Act, intends to modernize Winnipeg's taxi industry to include app-based ride-booking services like Uber. The act transfers taxi oversight powers from the Manitoba Taxicab Board to the city. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Winnipeg, your Uber is waiting.

City and provincial civil servants have already begun meeting to discuss new legislation introduced Monday that tasks the city with overseeing the taxi industry, including ride-booking services like Uber and Lyft, said chief corporate services officer Michael Jack on Tuesday.

Jack, for his part, said he is "hopeful" the province will attach funds to Bill 30, the Local Vehicles for Hire Act, which would dissolve the Manitoba Taxicab Board — the agency that regulates Winnipeg taxi owners and drivers — and download that power to the municipal level.

The bill is set to come into effect Feb. 28, 2018, unless the city is ready to take over earlier. 

"We're going to take our time and do this thoughtfully," Jack said. "And try to come up with the best model possible for Winnipeg."

Whatever model the city chooses, Edmonton's example shows the importance of having bylaws that change with new technology.

'Provide consumers with choice'

Mike Chong, director of business strategy and operations with the City of Edmonton, said his office is in constant conversation with stakeholders in the cab industry — conventional taxi operators and new players like Uber — to sort out questions and concerns related to its vehicle-for-hire bylaws.

"Our intent is to provide consumers with choice, maintain public safety, treat various stakeholders equitably, so each has an opportunity to succeed," said Chong.

Edmonton is able to regulate its taxi industry for just over $1 million a year, all which is covered by the licences it issues to drivers and dispatchers, he said.

Unicity Taxi president Gurmail Mangat said he supports Uber on Winnipeg streets so long as they have to play under the same rules as his business.

"If there is a level [playing] field we have no problem competing," he said. "We need to have some guidelines, regulations on them too."

Mirella Sanches, a 41-year-old architect, waits to be picked up at an Uber stand in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the company's third-largest market. (The Associated Press)

Edmonton was the first municipality in Canada to officially make Uber legal when city councillors updated bylaws in January 2016.

Later that same year, Alberta passed regulations relating to "transportation network companies" like Uber. An insurance hiccup briefly put Uber service in Edmonton on hold but in July it resumed and remains in service.

Alberta's taxi rules require, among other things, that all new companies  first apply for approval to operate in the province, conduct annual criminal background checks on drivers and bar anyone from driving cabs who has a recent criminal conviction.

Chong said in general the same rules that govern conventional taxis apply to Uber other similar services and that fairness is important.

City officials have already started discussing new legislation brought forward by the Pallister Government yesterday, and what it means for ride hailing companies making their way to Winnipeg. 1:44

"They are required to have proper insurance, an appropriate police information check and a correct class of provincial driver's licence," he said.

The biggest difference is that Uber can only accept pre-arranged trips; conventional taxis are allowed to pick up someone waving or whistling for a cab.

Uber drivers are not required to post their licence in their cabs but customers can see them on their apps, said Chong.

Uber may 'exacerbate' workload, says board member

Winnipeg Indigenous academic and member of the Manitoba Taxicab Board, Leah Gazan, said if her board is dissolved, its replacement will need to be larger and more robust to handle complaints.

She's concerned "massively expanding" the number of cabs in Winnipeg by allowing Uber into the market will make it difficult to keep on top of safety complaints.

"We're already working as a board really hard to address as is," she said. "Adding more to that I think will exacerbate the crisis we're in."

Under proposed legislation introduced in Manitoba Monday, Winnipeg has until Feb. 28, 2018 to develop a regulatory framework to oversee the city's taxi industry. (The Associated Press)

Gazan said any new regulatory body would also need to regulate dispatch in order to truly have a handle on the industry.

"It's hard to regulate a system when you're only regulating parts of it," she said. Edmonton's regulatory framework includes dispatch along with drivers.

In the Alberta capital, all complaints about taxis, Uber or otherwise, can be lodged by making a 311 call. 

Chong said his department has been focused on reconciling forces that can sometimes be at odds — like giving new businesses space to flourish and preventing the wrong people from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle for hire.

"We're essentially trying to strike a balance between regulation to the industry and achieving our core goals such as maintaining public safety."

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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