Edmonton city councillors will vote on a proposal that could bring Uber out of a legal grey zone, and possibly shine a beacon of peace in a global battle between taxi drivers and advocates of the ride-sharing app.
Scott Mackie, the branch manager for current planning in Edmonton, says proposed changes to the city’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw would require drivers with the ride-sharing service to have commercial insurance.
The city says the bylaw would be standardized, so that all drivers for hired vehicles would need criminal background checks, as well as the right class of provincial driver’s licence and mechanical inspections for their vehicles.
A public hearing is set for Sept. 16 so city council can hear reaction to the proposed changes.
Uber, in particular, is fighting numerous legal and regulatory battles as it aggressively expands worldwide.
Taxi drivers staged a large demonstration in Montreal last month to press the Quebec government to declare the ride-hailing service Uber-X illegal.
“What this does is it creates categories so that each category within the vehicle for hire industry can be regulated managed at an appropriate level for the type of service that they’re operating,” Mackie told a news conference on Friday about the proposal.
Mackie said that the commercial insurance requirement is included because the insurance industry has informed the city that personal insurance does not cover an individual who’s carrying passengers for compensation.
Alberta said in July that it has conducted a study of Uber’s insurance policies and it believes that they do not meet the requirements of the province’s Insurance Act.
United Cabbies Association president Bahaj Manhas said his group will oppose the changes that would allow Uber to operate legally, noting that the fluctuating fares that ride-share companies charge would hurt licensed cab drivers.
“Picking the pockets of the drivers who have been working for a long time. It’s going to be a big setback for their income because there will be an unlimited number of taxis in the street,” Manhas said after meeting with fellow drivers at Edmonton’s airport.
Uber spokesman Xavier Van Chau said in a statement that Edmonton’s efforts to be among the first in Canada to regulate ride sharing are commendable. But he said special licences and high fees for drivers themselves wouldn’t be workable.
“Most driver partners sign up on a short-term or part-time basis. With such rules, riders face the prospect of higher prices and unreliable service,” Van Chau said.
“Other cities that have regulated ride sharing have instead adopted a model that licenses ride-sharing companies directly.”
Edmonton councillor Scott McKeen, who sat in on the closed door executive committee meeting where the draft bylaw was reviewed before it was made public, anticipated opposition.
“I’m sure there will be backlash,” McKeen said. “But to ignore this technology is to allow a situation to continue where there is what are called bandit cabs, this sort of black market that I don’t think we can ignore anymore.”