Uber, Lyft continue Winnipeg prep even though they won't be ready to roll next week

Vehicle-for-hire companies Uber and Lyft are mounting separate efforts to enter the Winnipeg market even as they confirm they will not be transporting passengers in the Manitoba capital next week.

Uber recruiting Winnipeg drivers while Lyft ramps up public relations campaign aimed at MPI

Uber and Lyft are still making plans for Winnipeg even though they won't operate in the city next week, when competition to taxis opens up. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Vehicle-for-hire companies Uber and Lyft are continuing their efforts to enter the Winnipeg market even as they confirm they will not be transporting passengers in the Manitoba capital next week.

In March, a new bylaw takes effect that will allow vehicle-for-hire firms that solicit passengers online to compete with conventional taxi companies.

The only company that plans to take advantage of the change immediately is Edmonton-based TappCar, a labour-affiliated firm founded by conservative lawyers.

Uber and Lyft say they will not operate in the Manitoba capital until Manitoba Public Insurance offers the firms a different form of coverage.

Uber wants MPI to stop insisting drivers buy appropriate vehicle-for-hire insurance and instead offer the firm a blanket policy that covers all of its drivers. Lyft has complained MPI's product offerings are too inflexible for its primarily part-time work force.

Uber recruiting in Winnipeg

Nonetheless, Uber is recruiting drivers in Winnipeg and has informed them they intend to operate in the city on March 1. The firm has told prospective Winnipeg drivers it intends to subject them to further background checks "as soon as your city becomes active."

A spokesperson for Uber Canada suggested via email the company wants to be prepared in the event Manitoba Public Insurance officials change their mind.

"We are ready and eager to bring Uber to Manitoba and are hopeful that MPI and Minister of Crown Services will find a path forward," said Uber Canada's Susie Heath, reiterating that a blanket policy would work best for her firm.

Lyft plans PR campaign

Lyft, meanwhile, is planning to ramp up a public-relations campaign aimed at convincing Manitoba Public Insurance to change its mind. The firm is sending officials to Winnipeg on March 1, when the city's new vehicle-for-hire bylaw takes effect.

Communications manager Chelsea Harrison said in a statement the most Lyft drivers work less than 15 hours a week and claimed MPI's insurance product would not work for part-time drivers.

TappCar spokesperson Pascal Ryffel said Tuesday his firm is willing to pay for Manitoba Public Insurance coverage as it currently stands. He claimed companies such as Uber are trying to throw their corporate weight around.

More cabs coming, too

At the same time other firms can in theory compete with cab companies, the city will allow more taxis on the road. The city will award 60 new cab licenses in a lottery slated for Friday afternoon.

Council voted in 2017 to add 60 cab licenses in March and another 60 at the end of 2018 in an effort to improve the ratio of people to cabs in Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Parking Authority, the new regulator for cabs and other vehicle-for-hire companies, said a total of 3,200 applications for the taxi lottery, which will be held at the CanadInns Destination Centre Polo Park.

The first 60 names drawn from the lottery will be invited to apply for a taxi license and other names will be drawn for a waiting list that will be called upon if any of the initial winners fail to complete the licensing process by the end of April, the parking authority stated.