City Council opens the door for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton

After a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 10pm, Council eventually decided to look at new regulations that could make Uber legal while enforcing the existing bylaws in the meantime. The motion put forward by Councillor Knack also seeks additional data on the taxi industry and directs Administration to look at issuing additional taxi plates. “The world has evolved and people want choice,” he said.

Here’s the motion that Council passed unanimously this evening:

  1. That Administration work with the Transportation Network Companies and other stakeholders to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, to include a draft bylaw that would establish public safety rules and regulations for the operation of Transportation Network Companies.
  2. That, in parallel with the work in part 1, Administration work with the Taxi Industry to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, with a draft bylaw to amend the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700 to provide for improved taxi service standards, and with recommendations for issuance of additional taxi plates.
  3. That, in the meantime, Administration request that UBER temporarily suspend operations in the Edmonton market and if they refuse, Administration take all steps necessary to apply for an injunction against UBER to prevent its unlawful operation in Edmonton until such time as UBER complies with the applicable City of Edmonton bylaws.
  4. That Administration work with the taxi brokers to obtain data from dispatch systems on number of taxis dispatched at given times, wait times for taxis, and other information relevant to allow for determination of appropriate customer service standards and expectations.

With bullet #1, the motion seeks to create rules that would allow companies like Uber to operate legally in Edmonton. With bullet #2, it seeks to address the shortcomings that currently exist in Edmonton’s taxi industry.

“I think this approach makes sense because it leaves the City’s options open,” said Mayor Don Iveson before the motion was voted on. He also reiterated the need to have more data in order to make better decisions in the future. The mayor said it makes sense to ask companies like Uber to abide by the regulations that are in place while the City works to align them with the market.

Uber is currently operating illegally in Edmonton. It launched its service back in December and the City declared that any Uber car caught operating would be considered a “bandit taxi” and face a $1,000 fine. Uber has argued consistently that its technology and business model are fundamentally different and are therefore not explicitly covered by provincial or municipal regulations. Sometimes called a ridesharing app, a more general term for Uber is transportation network company.

Yellow Cab
Photo by Dave Sutherland

The discussion centered around the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700, which “regulates taxi brokers, drivers, and vehicles, but does not regulate passengers.” From the report:

“The number of allowable taxi plates within the city was frozen in 1995 to facilitate a financially viable taxi industry. The taxi rates are controlled by the City of Edmonton to ensure consumer price protection.”

Edmonton caps the number of taxi permits or plates at 1,319. It has increased the number of plates allowed a few times over the years, but the City recognizes there are still too few plates to meet demand. A report from 2007 suggests that Edmonton is 177 plates short. Council mentioned repeatedly that they have heard from constituents that there aren’t enough taxis and that wait times are too long.

At one point, Councillor Scott McKeen asked Edmonton Taxi Group president Phil Strong if the industry has been lobbying for more plates to be issued, but of course they haven’t been. “I wouldn’t know where to go,” he claimed. The issue is that by making more plates available, the value of each declines.

“Almost everybody agrees the status quo doesn’t work,” the mayor said.

There was quite a bit of discussion about the idea that the City create its own app for taxi services. The problem with that in my opinion is that what makes Uber attractive is that it works in hundreds of cities. That’s great for Edmontonians travelling elsewhere, and for visitors to our city too. A local-only app would not benefit from the economies of scale that Uber provides.

There was also a lot of discussion about driver’s licenses and insurance. Most of us have Class 5 licenses, but in order to transport passengers for profit, you need to carry a Class 4 license. You can learn more in the Commercial Drivers Guide PDF. On the topic of insurance, there was some confusion about whether or not Uber’s policy, which only kicks in if a driver’s personal insurance fails to cover an accident, was sufficient. It has not yet been tested in Canada.

Most of the speakers present at the meeting today were from the taxi industry, either drivers or representatives of the brokers. Uber’s sole representative was Chris Schafer, the Public Policy Manager for Uber in Canada. It was a packed house for most of the meeting.

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The reports that the motion seeks will include a draft bylaw, so don’t expect them to return to Council until sometime in the fall. In the meantime you can try to take Uber, but know that they are operating illegally.

11 thoughts on “City Council opens the door for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton

    1. They are illegal and they’re operating without following the regulations, that’s why the City is calling them bandit taxis and is issuing fines to drivers who are caught offering the service. The point of tonight’s motion though is to find a way to update the regulations to make them legal, perhaps by the end of 2015.

      1. “Bandit taxis” is a term far too cool to be wasted on offering unregulated passenger services. I’d want a bandit taxi to be operated by a one-eyed, three-toothed guy with a rifle and maybe a mangy dog as the co-pilot. “Unlicensed cab” works for Uber.

  1. Thanks for featuring my photo, Mack!

    It seems to me that Uber operates more closely like a limousine-for-hire service than a taxi service; do the regulations on operating limos differ from those for taxis?

    1. There are slightly different rules yes, but they are all covered under the same Vehicle for Hire bylaw. Someone from the limousine industry in Edmonton spoke at the meeting and suggested that Uber should be reclassified!

  2. To me, I think there is something going on between the city and Uber. Last night the city wanted all Uber operation suspended until further notice , this morning they are recruiting more drivers at Romada inn on calgary trail. Makes me wonder.

  3. You know what I hate about taxi service in Edmonton is the utter sketchiness of it all. My husband tried to book a cab in advance one night and he gave the dispatcher his phone number because he was at a secure location and would need to open the gate, to which the dispatcher told him not all the driver’s have cell phones, so this won’t work. After he relayed this story to me, I said that sounds sketchy, I’ll pick you up. So my husband called Barrel taxi back to cancel the booking and they could find no such booking. This is the kind of total incompetence that enrages me with the taxi industry. For all I know my husband may never have gotten a safe ride home that night.

  4. Uber is a fantastic service! We enjoyed using Uber services during our stay in Los Angeles, and never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a car – you can choose your car option – there are five car options to choose from – I usually went with Black; which was usually a Black Lincoln, you have a SUV option as well, other cars included: Lexus, Mercedes – whatever. The drivers opened your door, offered you water or a cold beverage – the cars were clean, smelled great and the drivers were well dressed. Once they are on route – you receive a confirmation of the driver, and his car (picture included). There is no money exchanged, so no tipping (it is included in your fare) You load your credit card number into the app – and your receipt is email once you are dropped off. I hear an average driver for a taxi company makes way less than what an Uber driver would make. So what’s the problem here? We as consumers have to open our minds to the new technology that is available to us! Who wants to wait for a cab in -30 weather these days? We need to stand up and open our eyes to the best service that has arrived in Edmonton. Pulling up anywhere in a Black Town car is pretty nice indeed. Its like having your own car service for the same rate as a cab…Uber will be a success in Edmonton, it is just a matter of time. I do not have any affiliations with Uber – I’m just one very satisfied consumer!

  5. Thanks for the great summary Mack. Pulls together a lot of disparate pieces that were difficult to track down, and breaks through some of the alarmist overreaction on both sides of the fence.

  6. The Taxi Service is corrupt like most monopolies. If Uber operates for now mainly during Peak overflow hours when their isn’t enough Taxi’s it shouldn’t an issue.

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