Manitoba

Winnipeg's Uber drivers will require same checks as taxi cabs, city says

Winnipeg's new Uber drivers have to pass the same safety checks as taxi drivers in the city, according to the city's manager of vehicles for hire.
Uber hasn't filed a license application yet with the city, although it hopes to offer rides in Winnipeg by early spring. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Winnipeg's new Uber drivers will have to pass the same safety checks as taxi and limo drivers, according to the city's manager of vehicles for hire.

The ride-hailing giant announced Tuesday it plans to start operating in Winnipeg, a number of years after it first tried to enter the market.

When the service arrives in Winnipeg, Uber drivers will fall under the same bylaw requirements, city manager Grant Heather said.

That means prospective drivers will need to submit criminal record checks, Manitoba driver's abstracts, and child abuse registry checks, which are verified by the company and the city.

Uber hasn't filed a license application yet with the city, although Uber said it hopes to offer rides in Winnipeg by early spring.

Ride-sharing app, Uber, plans to start picking up Winnipeggers by the summer. Uber's Western Canada head, Michael van Hemmen, sat down with Marcy Markusa to talk about what that means for Winnipeg and the company. 8:31

App-based ride-booking services are a growing market, with more than 500 drivers now in Winnipeg, compared to around 600 licensed taxi drivers, Heather said.

But even though there are many ride-hailing drivers registered, the majority of trips in Winnipeg are still via cabs.

"There has been some market taken away from the taxis, but I would say it's a very small amount. Where a lot of new riders are choosing to take ride-sharing instead," he said.

In 2019 there were 5.4 million trips taken by ride-for-hire services. Luxury vehicles made up 1 per cent of those trips, 7-8 per cent was through ride-for-hire apps, while the remaining 92 per cent were taxi trips. The city has only been collecting the data since March 2018.

"Having competition in the market is always good. Having more companies in the market is always good. I think it just improves customer service," he said.

The city said Uber is widely used in other markets and would be recognized by visitors to Winnipeg.

Other apps welcome competition

While Uber failed to launch, other smaller apps have been operating in the city, including ReRide, URide, and TappCar.

TappCar and URide said they welcome the competition, and said they hope Winnipeggers will stay faithful to their smaller, Canadian companies that have already been up and running in the city.

"It's not like rideshare is beginning in 2020, so in that sense, they're just another competitor in the marketplace," said TappCar spokesperson John Morris, which operates in Winnipeg and Edmonton.

"With Uber coming into Winnipeg, if it helps grow the market and provide safe rides, all the better," said Cody Ruberto, founder of Thunder Bay-based URide, which offers ridesharing in Winnipeg but also smaller markets, particularly in northern Ontario.

CBC News' request for comment from Winnipeg's two major taxi companies, Unicity and Duffy's taxi, were not answered.

Possible negative impact on transit, accessible rides

Uber's long-anticipated foray into the Winnipeg market will mean more options for consumers, especially at peak times, according to a transportation expert who has studied the impact of ride-hailing apps in bigger cities.

"The more vehicles, the more people competing to [give] a ride, the better service is going to be," said Garland Chow, a University of British Columbia researcher who has provided advice to both the taxi industry and the province of B.C., where Uber just started to operate in Vancouver.

More ride-for-hire options also curb the problem of drinking and driving, as they provide more options for a ride home at different times, he said.

But it's not true that ride-for-hire apps takes cars off the road, Chow said.

"Overall there will be more vehicle miles driven," he said. "It will end up with more vehicle miles and more congestion."

Ride-for-hire apps may also encourage customers away from buses, which can pose a problem for cities' transit systems in the future, he said.

"You'll probably lose some [transit] passengers, and as a consequence, if the mass transit system is operating at a loss, it's going to operate at an even bigger loss, unless they cut back on service, and then you'll hit that vicious cycle," he said.

"You keep cutting back on [bus] service ... you're going to now demand more alternatives to mass transit," which include ride hailing companies, he said.

Taxi companies are at risk of losing profits too, but also their drivers, who might leave in hopes of making more money through the apps.

"This is a kick in the arse to the taxi sector," he said.

He said taxi companies can compete by building their own apps, and play up advantages they have over Uber, like offering a certain number of accessible vehicles, along with letting customers pay cash and not just with a credit card.

"They need to get their act together."

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

With files from Jonathan Ventura

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