Mayor becomes 1st Winnipeg Uber passenger as ride-hailing giant launches in city
Company has been trying to set up shop in city for years
After a few false starts, the ride-hailing service Uber has officially launched in Winnipeg — and the city's mayor was the first to take advantage.
The app became available to Winnipeggers as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, Michael van Hemmen, head of Uber's Western Canada operations, said at a news conference.
Mayor Brian Bowman took the inaugural spin in Winnipeg.
He said he was happy that people in Winnipeg will now have more choice for transportation. He said he's had the app on his phone for some time, but hasn't been able to use it in the city.
"I can't tell you the number of times people have visited our city and asked me, 'Why don't you have Uber?'" he said.
A map of Uber's coverage area shows the ride-hailing service will be available throughout Winnipeg, with the area mostly within the Perimeter Highway.
Van Hemmen said riders should expect slightly longer wait times than they've experienced in other cities at first, but the company expects waits to decrease in the coming weeks as more drivers are hired.
He said Uber doesn't have a specific number for how many drivers are needed, but the company is confident it has enough to launch at this time.
Drivers and riders will also need to adhere to certain safety guidelines in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Both riders and drivers will have to wear face masks. Drivers will also have to submit a selfie through the app showing they have a mask on in order to take customers, and will also have to sanitize their vehicle between rides.
Uber representatives said in March that the company was recruiting drivers in Winnipeg with the intention to be operating in the city by the end of the spring.
The company tried to launch in Winnipeg in 2018, after the City of Winnipeg and the province passed laws that would allow ride-hailing services to enter the market, but couldn't reach an agreement with Manitoba Public Insurance on an insurance model.
Manitoba presented some unique challenges in that regard, as it requires ride-sharing drivers to purchase their own insurance. Uber purchases commercial insurance directly for its drivers in other provinces, Van Hemmen said.
He said the company was able to work out an arrangement with MPI, where the company will pay for additional insurance to cover its drivers.
Taxi drivers ask city for help
While Bowman was celebrating the launch of Uber outside city hall Tuesday, inside, taxi drivers were asking the city to help them financially recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, taxi drivers made their case to the city's infrastructure and public works committee for a rebate of 50 per cent of their per-trip fees incurred during the pandemic.
Duffy's Taxi manager Ram Valluru says that even though business has been down 60 to 80 per cent during the pandemic, owners still have to pay the same expenses. He added that drivers should be rewarded for staying on the road to provide an essential service during a difficult time.
Still, Unicity Taxi general manager Harjit Chahal says he welcomes Uber's arrival in Winnipeg, and doesn't mind the competition, as long as Uber has to adhere to the same safety standards and pay the same fees as taxi companies.
"We need the same playing field in the city. We are providing the same customer service. It should be the same for when we are paying the expenses or when we are paying the insurance," Chahal said.
The infrastructure committee was expected to vote on the drivers' request for a fee rebate before the end of the day.
With files from Sean Kavanagh and Bryce Hoye