Winnipeg reveals plan to allow Uber, Lyft to operate alongside taxis as early as March

Companies such as Uber and Lyft will be able to operate alongside taxis in Winnipeg as early as March 1 as part of a new plan to regulate vehicles for hire.

New regulatory plan also calls on city to issue 120 new taxi licences, hike fees

Winnipeg has a new plan to allow services such as Uber to operate in the city as soon as March 1. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Companies such as Uber and Lyft will be able to operate alongside taxis in Winnipeg as early as March 1 as part of a new plan to regulate vehicles for hire.

Pending council approval, the city plans to regulate all vehicles for hire next year but only license taxis, whose numbers will rise to ensure the ratio of cabs to Winnipeggers hovers around a target of one taxi to every 1,203 citizens.

Right now, the ratio of cabs to people in Winnipeg is one taxi to every 1,555 citizens, according to the regulatory plan published Friday.

To improve that ratio, the city plans to issue 120 cab licences and eliminate seasonal licences. More licences will be added as the city's population grows, the report states.

Winnipeg chief transportation and utilities officer Dave Wardrop said the idea was to allow for as much flexibility as possible within the transportation industry.

Winnipeg chief transportation and utilities officer Dave Wardrop says the city plans to set a maximum fare for taxis but not a mandatory rate, to allow cabs to remain competitive with services like Lyft and Uber. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Initially, the Winnipeg Parking Authority will oversee the vehicle-for-hire bylaw, Wardrop said, noting the city does not have time to create a new special operating agency before provincial ride-hailing legislation kicks in on March 1.

Winnipeg cab companies learned of the proposed changes at the same time as media, leading Scott McFadyen of the Winnipeg Community Taxi Coalition to call the consultations with his industry a sham.

"Just the spirit in which this is happening," McFadyen seethed on the main floor of city hall's administration building on Friday afternoon, as cabbies tapped away on their phones, trying to read the city's regulatory plan.

"All the media is standing around while we're looking at the bylaws in eight-point font. We're trying to find out what's going on with these people's livelihoods. This is how you manage stakeholders? This is how you manage citizens?"

Report calls for hike to maximum taxi fare

The report also calls for the city to spend $1.3 million regulating all vehicles for hire and recovering this money from licences and fees. The dissolution of the provincial taxicab board left this task in the city's hands.

In order to collect this revenue, the city plans to boost basic cab charges from $3.50 to $3.75, increase the one-kilometre rate from $1.38 to $1.60 and hike the waiting fee from 46 cents a minute to 52 cents.

This will be a maximum fare, as opposed to a mandatory rate, Wardrop said, adding the idea is to allow taxis to compete with services such as Uber and Lyft.

The city will require Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo the same criminal background checks and vehicle-safety certifications as taxi drivers, but they won't have to install shields.

Uber and Lyft drivers won't be allowed to pick up passengers who hail them on the street. They also won't be allowed to accept cash as payment.

To ensure there are enough accessible vehicles in Winnipeg, all vehicle-for-hire companies will be charged a surcharge if less than 10 per cent of their fleet is accessible, Wardrop said.

This report comes before council's executive policy committee on Wednesday and then faces council approval.

Mayor Brian Bowman, who promised to allow ride-hailing services such as Uber to operate in Winnipeg, said citizens have made it clear they want alternatives to taxis.

"Winnipeg simply could not remain an island forever," Bowman said, adding he is not surprised by the negative reaction from the taxi industry.

"I do not expect what's proposed today will make everybody happy."