Uber suspends service, TappCar prepares to launch, Alberta seeks transit strategy input

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Uber suspends service in Edmonton

Today the City’s new Vehicle for Hire Bylaw came into effect. It should have been a great day for Uber and its supporters, but unfortunately the company was forced to suspend operations due to being unable to obtain sufficient insurance to meet Provincial regulations. The Province announced its plan for what it calls “ride-for-hire services” yesterday. There are three key areas in which the Province is taking action:

  • “Insurance: by July 1, an interim insurance product that will provide adequate coverage to Uber drivers and their passengers will be in place. The interim insurance framework has been approved by the Superintendent of Insurance.”
  • “Licensing: all ride-for-hire drivers, including Uber, will continue to require Class 4 Driver Licences or better.”
  • “Police Checks: regulations will be amended to require all ride-for-hire drivers to have a police information check conducted by police.”

It’s the July 1 date for insurance that is the big problem. Brian Mason, Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, tweeted that Uber “has known all along that insurance wouldn’t be ready til summer.” But Uber said it only learned of the timeline yesterday and apparently neither did City Council.

Uber did say that it would continue operating in surrounding communities like St. Albert where there is no approved regulation, which apparently caught Brian Mason by surprise. “I had not been aware that Uber was going to try and deliberately operate against the law,” he told CBC Edmonton. “That concerns me a great deal and we’ll be having some conversations with our officials.” Umm…where exactly has he been for the last year?

TappCar and other PTPs prepare to launch

According to the City, five regional (Metro Airport, Anytime Taxi, Cowboy Taxi, Dollar Cab and a Private Individual) and one commercial (Tapp Car) Private Transportation Providers (PTP) have been granted licenses under the new bylaw. Not much is known yet about the regional PTPs, but TappCar does look rather interesting and has been featured in the media in recent days.

TappCar
Image courtesy of TappCar

TappCar is a local company that promises “a new standard of service…that is convenient, reliable and safe.” They having been working to sign up drivers for their launch.

“TappCar offers an industry-leading mobile app, in addition to phone and web booking. Vehicles are guaranteed to be of comfortable size and quality. Drivers are properly insured and professionally licensed, and each vehicle has a two way camera installed, ensuring every ride is safe.”

You’ll be able to book a car using their app, website, or by calling the dispatch. TappCar is planning to launch mid-March if all goes well.

Provincial Transit Strategy

Today the Province announced it is looking for input on a new transit strategy for Alberta:

“There will be two streams of engagement – urban and rural – and an online public survey, all of which will inform the development of an overall provincial transit strategy and criteria for future funding for municipal transit initiatives and rural bus service.”

For the purposes of the strategy, urban communities are defined as having more than 10,000 residents with rural communities having fewer than 10,000. Clearly there’s a difference between the transit needs of Wetaskiwin with 13,000 people and Edmonton with more than 870,000, however.

Both Calgary and Edmonton have made it very clear that investing in public transit is a key priority. The big cities face unique transportation challenges, and require financial support from the Province to deal with them. Having said that, there are some common trends happening across Alberta, like the fact that young people are increasingly choosing other methods of transportation besides driving.

“In 2014, 67.2 per cent of Albertans age 18 to 24 held any class of Alberta drivers’ licence, down from 70.9 per cent in 2005.”

You can provide input on the strategy here until April 29, 2016.

Edmonton is in the middle of revamping its own Transit Strategy, a process that is expected to wrap up in the middle of 2017. Initial feedback was that Edmontonians want a fast, frequent, and reliable transit network that connects them to major destinations like work, school, and shopping, and that they place a high value on having a safe & secure, easy to use system.

Why City Council’s approval of ridesharing in Edmonton matters

Edmonton became the first Canadian city to legalize ridesharing services like Uber with Council’s approval today of a new vehicle for hire bylaw.

“The regulatory framework in the new bylaw helps to answer citizen and business demand for more choice in the vehicle for hire industry,” says Mayor Don Iveson. “It represents a significant evolution of the industry and creates a model that will enable the taxi business and private transportation providers to co-exist.”

You can read more about today’s news in Elise Stolte’s story here. As she noted (and tweeted), “the bylaw passed 8-4 with councillors Dave Loken, Bryan Anderson, Mike Nickel and Tony Caterina against.”

Uber in Edmonton

Here is Uber’s statement on the new bylaw:

“Uber applauds the City of Edmonton for its leadership in being the first Canadian jurisdiction to adopt progressive regulations that embrace ridesharing. We thank Mayor Iveson, Councillors and City staff for supporting Edmontonian riders and drivers who want more affordable and reliable transportation options.

While these newly adopted regulations contain concessions for ridesharing service providers, the rules put in place a workable regulatory approach.

The spirit of collaboration and willpower demonstrated by the City of Edmonton to modernize its transportation laws can serve as a model for all Canadian regulators and elected officials.”

They were pretty happy on Twitter too:

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The new bylaw will come into effect on March 1, 2016. Uber will be able to operate under a new class called Private Transportation Providers (PTPs). As they operate more than 200 vehicles, Uber will pay a license fee of $50,000/year plus $0.06/trip, with a $20,000/year accessibility surcharge on top of that. Only taxis will be able to pick up street hails or use taxi stands, but both taxis and PTPs will be required to charge a minimum of $3.25 for any trip. Drivers will be required to carry the appropriate insurance as outlined under provincial law, something Uber is working to acquire.

The new bylaw supports The Way We Move

I think the new bylaw supports Council’s transportation goals as outlined in The Way We Move, Edmonton’s transportation master plan. Here’s what I wrote back in September:

“The discussion about Uber in Edmonton lately has focused primarily on the fight between taxis and Uber, understandably. Lots of Edmontonians have horror stories to share about taxis, and there’s no question that competition from Uber will have a positive impact on the industry. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. Uber and other transportation network companies can positively contribute to Edmonton’s transportation mix. We should do what we can to allow them to operate here legally.”

Councillor Knack spoke about this today, highlighting that ridesharing is an important way to help shift away from private vehicles to more sustainable options. “The status quo can no longer exist and change has to happen,” he said.

Council did what it was supposed to

Back in the summer of 2011, Council was already investigating ways to “provide increased capacity in the City of Edmonton taxi market.” The reality was already that Edmonton’s population had grown faster than its supply of taxis, and quality of service was suffering as a result. In 2012 Council wanted to issue 100 new licenses, but the Vehicle for Hire Commission refused to go along with the plan. So Council amended the bylaw to allow Administration to issue the licenses.

Something had to change, so it’s no surprise that when Uber showed up back in December 2014 Edmontonians embraced the service. All of a sudden at the touch of a button a ride could quickly and reliably be found. Ultimately Council’s role in this debate had very little to do with supporting taxis or welcoming Uber. Instead, it was about ensuring Edmontonians could move around the city efficiently.

I think Councillor Walters said this well in his post today:

“So equality is not the goal here, but rather equity – fairness – for our public. This is not about a big, bad, sophisticated multinational giving away free cupcakes, or the local taxi companies who come in to Council and scream and shout and take their shirts off. This about the kind of vehicle for hire service we want to facilitate with our bylaw. It is about Council’s role as a maker of public policy, not as a referee in an on-going battle between two different companies.”

Perhaps City Council’s most important job is to ensure that all taxpayer dollars spent result in the best possible value for citizens. They are charged with defining a vision for Edmonton and for making sure the City is operating effectively and efficiently toward it. I think their decision today is a reflection of that commitment.

The new bylaw supports innovation & choice

Nearly every Councillor spoke today about the importance of offering choice to Edmontonians by passing the bylaw. “We have to recognize there’s a huge part of our citizenry that want something different than we’re offering them,” said Councillor Henderson. Even Councillor Oshry, who had reservations about the bylaw despite voting in favor of it, said the taxi industry had become complacent. “They have to provide a better service than in the past,” he said.

Although a few Councillors tried to include more restrictions in the bylaw, I think an appropriate balance was ultimately struck. “This bylaw enables innovation and competition, rather than constraining them,” Mayor Iveson said. Too much regulation could have hampered the rapid innovation that is taking place in the industry. Making the Uber of today legal is a great outcome, but the bylaw also opens the door to additional services in the future. For instance, UberPool is a great twist on the Uber service that could have been restricted by overly aggressive minimum fare regulations.

The new bylaw actually specifies two levels of PTPs – commercial for providers with more than 200 vehicles, and regional for those with fewer than 200 vehicles. The license fees for regional PTPs are the same as taxis at $1000/year for dispatch plus $400/year per vehicle and $60/year for drivers. That’s much lower than the $50,000/year for commercial PTPs and means we may even see a homegrown alternative to Uber.

I’m hopeful that making ridesharing legal in Edmonton will entice competitors to Uber such as Lyft to enter the market also. It would be great to have some competition and choice in the ridesharing market.

Edmonton leads the way on ridesharing in Canada

It may have been painful to get there, but Edmonton has provided a way forward for other municipalities in Canada to adopt regulations that enable ridesharing for their citizens as well. I think it’s great that Council (most of them anyway) did not shy away from this challenge and instead chose to provide leadership on the issue. And as Mayor Iveson said today, there’s an opportunity for the City to work with other municipalities in Canada as well as the Competition Bureau to ensure that citizens are getting the best possible value from big organizations like Uber.

Uber decision deferred, $41 million for Edmonton City Centre, have your say on the budget

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

Uber Decision Deferred

Today was the big Council meeting to discuss the proposed Vehicle for Hire Bylaw. Last week the City informed the media they’d need to pickup a press badge in order to be present today, and security was increased at City Hall in anticipation of heated protests. But despite a few minor outbursts during the meeting, it all felt a little underwhelming. Many Councillors used the opportunity to get on their respective soapboxes to complain about whatever – some ripped into Uber, some expressed anger at Administration, and one or two questioned why we regulate taxis at all. But that was the only drama, because in the end Council asked for more information and deferred a decision on the bylaw until late January.

Make no mistake, Uber is going to walk away from this whole situation happy. Why? Because there’s a lot more Edmontonians that want to see Uber here as an option than there are Edmontonians willing to speak up for the taxis. Council is hearing loud and clear from constituents that they want Uber in Edmonton, and that’s the most effective way to get Council to budge on something. And even if the rules that do eventually get passed aren’t ideal for Uber, they may be good enough as Councillor Walters points out. They’re threatening to leave now because it helps them secure a better negotiating position. But once there are rules to play by, it’s a simple business decision – can they make money following those rules or not?

$41 million for Edmonton City Centre

Today via Ted Bauer I saw that Oxford Property Group is planning to invest $41.3 million to “revitalize the entire retail experience” of Edmonton City Centre. A big part of the plan is to “relocate and significantly upgrade” the food courts. Currently located on the lowest level of the mall, one on the west and one on the east, the existing food courts will be consolidated centrally on the top level (as is now common in other malls and shopping centres).

Edmonton City Centre
Edmonton City Centre, photo by IQRemix

The news release mentions that “over 23,000 new residents are expected to be living downtown by 2019.” It’s great to see that Edmonton City Centre is looking at this as an opportunity and that they’re willing to invest in order to compete with Ice District. There are already a lot of empty spaces in the mall, including many that have been empty for months or even years. With a new hotel, new theatre, and lots of other retail moving just a block or two away into new buildings in Ice District, it was starting to look like Edmonton City Centre would be even emptier in just a few years.

I would suggest this investment is the minimum necessary in order for Edmonton City Centre to compete. And their relative silence on all the development happening downtown was not inspiring much confidence, so this is a nice surprise. But let’s keep it real, ok? Here’s what the Oxford site currently says:

“There’s a huge buzz coming out of downtown Edmonton—and it’s resonating entirely from Edmonton City Centre.”

That’s a bit of a stretch! Still, good to see them willing to make a play for a piece of the pie.

Have your say on the 2016-2018 Operating Budget

We’re in the middle of budget season, as you are probably aware. On Monday, November 23 a non-statutory public hearing will be held at City Hall from 1:30pm to 9:30pm. It’s an opportunity for you to speak directly to City Council about the proposed budget before a decision is made in early December. If you’d like to register to speak, you can do so here.

The full budget is available at edmonton.ca/budget2016. If you’d like a friendly introduction and overview to the budget, check out yegcitybudget.ca. And finally, if you’re a geek like me and want to dig into the data, budget.edmonton.ca is the best place to start.

The final budget discussions get underway starting November 27.

How Uber supports Edmonton’s transportation strategy

Uber launched in Edmonton on December 18 last year, and it has been operating here illegally ever since. Now the City has put forward a draft bylaw that aims to provide a framework within which Uber can operate legally, but in a lot of ways it has just become a fight between taxis and Uber. I think this fight has shifted focus away from the bigger picture.

taxis
Taxis on the way to City Hall to protest, photo by Lincoln Ho

Edmonton’s transportation system should always be evolving to meet the needs of Edmontonians. There’s a place for taxis, but there’s also a place for new approaches to transportation like Uber.

The Way We Move, our city’s Transportation Master Plan, states:

“How easily we move through our city, the distances we must travel, the transportation choices we have and how readily we can move between different transportation modes profoundly affects our relationship with the city, the environment and each other.”

In general the strategy focuses on “mode shift” which “is about adding more walking, cycling, car-sharing and transit in Edmonton’s transportation mix.” There’s a consistent goal of offering Edmontonians more options for getting from point A to point B without needing to use their vehicles. The strategy identifies seven goals to help achieve this. Let’s look at how Uber might fit in with those.

Transportation & Land Use Integration

This goal encompasses building so-called complete communities, where people can live, work, and play, reducing the need for driving. It also highlights transit-oriented development and making it possible for people to live closer to great transit service that can get them to where they need to go.

I think carsharing services like Pogo are probably a better fit with this goal, but Uber can play a role too. In fact, they wrote about this earlier in the year:

“What we discovered is that 36% of trips started or ended within 400m of an LRT stop. Of the trips that start or end close to an LRT stop, almost 90% pick up or drop off in an area that isn’t conveniently served by public transit.”

We have a great vision for the LRT Network, but it’s a long way from being completed. Taking a train and Uber together could be a great option until more of the LRT is built out.

Access & Mobility

This goal deals with addressing the transportation needs of a diverse urban population.

“An accessible transportation system addresses the transportation needs of a diverse urban population regardless of mobility challenges or vehicle ownership.”

Believe it or not, Uber does have a story to tell here. The company often talks about the accessibility of its mobile app, which includes features for those with audio or visual impairments. In some cities, they also have UberACCESS, which “offers access to wheelchair-accessible vehicles through partnerships with fleet owners.”

Uber has also started to bring other options to Edmonton, launching uberXL earlier this year which offers spacious, high capacity vehicles.

Regulation will probably be required for this goal more than most, but Uber can play a role in ensuring Edmontonians have accessible transportation options.

Transportation Mode Shift

Though The Way We Move talks primarily about shifting transportation modes from driving to transit and active modes of transportation (cycling, walking), that can be a big shift for people to make. We know that the majority of Edmontonians agree we need to drive less, but they’re somewhat less willing to make the shift themselves.

“In recent research, 84% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘Edmontonians need to reduce driving’. however when this general desire is applied specifically to individuals, the population is essentially split 50/50 into two groups, those who are totally committed to driving and those who are potential experimenters.”

Uber, Pogo, and other services could offer a stepping stone from to the other. Why stay shackled by your car? Take an Uber to get somewhere, but then consider walking or taking transit for your next short trip. It’s incredible how stressful driving is after you haven’t had to do it for a while.

Sustainability

The City has long supported carpooling because it not only can help you to save money, “it’s also an efficient and sustainable way to help reduce road congestion and CO2 emissions.”

Taking Uber still means there’s a car on the road of course, but being a passenger rather than a driver is a step in the right direction (and could mean you’re more likely to use a combination of transportation modes). Uber is not really a rideshare or carpool service, though it does offer a Split Fare feature which can make it even more cost effective and which makes it possible for even more cars to be taken off the road. And that’s important:

“In 2005, the total distance travelled daily by car drivers on the Edmonton region road network was 13 million — this is projected to increase to nearly 50 million kilometers by 2044. by providing less energy intensive transportation options, we have an opportunity to reduce Edmonton’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

I think UberX is a way for us to use our vehicles more efficiently. When discussing the Sustainability goal, the TMP states:

“Promoting the reuse and redevelopment of underutilized facilities that already exist will rejuvenate our neighbourhoods and help to optimize use of infrastructure, including investments in the transportation system.”

Considering that our cars sit parked more than 90% of the time, I’d say they count as “underutilized facilities that already exist”. Why not reuse some of them to drive each other around?

Health & Safety

Obviously Uber isn’t going to do anything for emergency vehicles, nor does it do much to encourage more physical activity. This goal seems to highlight safe walking more than anything.

But on the topic of safety, there has been a lot of discussion about what’s required to ensure Edmontonians are safe taking Uber. The company does highlight background checks, vehicle inspections, and having appropriate insurance. And last week it announced a partnership with Intact Insurance here in Canada.

As I wrote when Uber launched in Edmonton, the company has attracted a lot of controversy. Clearly they have room to improve. But I wonder how many safety incidents happen in taxis all around the world that we never hear about, simply because they’re all so isolated? A safety incident in one city is going to make the news in other markets that Uber operates. I think that greater awareness and visibility into safety issues will result in safer rides for everyone, not less.

Well-maintained Infrastructure

Reducing the number of cars on the road will have a positive impact on the City’s financial sustainability:

“Encouraging fewer single occupant vehicle trips reduces the pressure on the roadway system and reduces the need for increased roadway investment.”

Edmonton’s road network is already more than 4,500 km long. We have about 170 bridges. We spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting all that infrastructure. Any reduction in stress on those assets is a good thing!

Economic Vitality

Whether we like it or not, Uber, Lyft, and similar services are growing in popularity throughout cities all over the world. It’s easy to think that the advantage of Uber is just the app, and while that is part of it, I think the connection to a bigger network is also an important advantage. If I can use Uber in other cities I visit, why not here?

That mode shift report also discusses this idea:

“We are following the lead of today’s successful cities and creating urban environments that provide a high quality-of-place experience and quality of life for residents in order to attract the best and the brightest to their city. This includes providing the type of sustainable transportation choices that align with international preferences.”

We need to provide a range of options:

“Diversifying the transportation options and more effectively using our current infrastructure are critical to attract businesses for the sake of the economic development of the city as well as to allow an effective exchange of goods and services.”

I think Uber’s claims of job creation are questionable, especially with all the negative press they have received for not looking after their contractors. That said, there are plenty of stories of drivers who have made a positive financial change in their life thanks to Uber.

Wrap Up

The discussion about Uber in Edmonton lately has focused primarily on the fight between taxis and Uber, understandably. Lots of Edmontonians have horror stories to share about taxis, and there’s no question that competition from Uber will have a positive impact on the industry.

But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. Uber and other transportation network companies can positively contribute to Edmonton’s transportation mix. We should do what we can to allow them to operate here legally.

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.

Uber launches in Edmonton

As of 10am this morning, you can now use Uber in Edmonton to get a ride to your next destination. Uber is a smartphone app and platform that connects you with a driver, as an alternative to hailing a taxi, taking public transportation, or driving yourself. It is sometimes called a ride-sharing app. Edmonton is the fourth Canadian city for Uber, which already operates in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Since launching in San Francisco in 2009, the company has expanded to 53 countries and more than 230 cities worldwide. An Uber representative bought me a beer last night to discuss the service.

To help launch the service in Edmonton, Uber has teamed up with Goodwill to hold a clothing drive. You can open the Uber app on December 18 and click a special donate button to have a car come and pick up a donation of clothing for free. The #UberClothingDrive runs from 10am to 5pm, and is also happening in Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto.

Uber now offers a range of services and the specific one launching here in Edmonton is UberX, which consists of “everyday cars for everyday use.” It’s their lowest cost offering and is described as follows by Uber:

“Peer-to-peer ride sharing offered by insured drivers who have undergone extensive background scrutiny, are fully insured and are tracked and rated through Uber technology; rides are charged at a base rate, plus time and distance.”

They say you can expect to pay about 30% less than a comparable taxi ride, and the price can drop even further if you split fares with other Uber members or use UberPOOL (which is a way to share cars with other riders who are travelling to and from nearby locations). UberPOOL isn’t available in Edmonton yet, but it will be eventually.

I’m not going to go into more detail about how Uber works here, but you can learn all about it at the Uber support site. Drivers are contractors, not employees, and Uber does not own or operate any cars itself. If you want to sign up to be a driver for Uber in Edmonton, you can do so here.

Early supporters in Edmonton

Many Edmontonians have come out in support of Uber, including some pretty high profile ones.

Back in September, Davic MacLean wrote an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal supporting Uber. Here’s what the Alberta Enterprise Group Vice President had to say:

“Ridesharing services are the future of the taxi industry, but we need to get the regulatory structure right. Policy-makers must find a way to respect the investments existing drivers and taxi companies have made into their businesses while, at the same time, promoting consumer choice without sacrificing safety.”

In an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal yesterday, Chris LaBossiere also made the case for Uber:

“With each of Uber’s product levels, from private citizen-driven uberX cars, to uberTAXI or the more luxurious uberBLACK car service, I have experienced a better product, at a significantly reduced price.”

Uber’s “rider zero”, the first person to officially use the service in Edmonton, is former Mayor Bill Smith.


Photo by Moments in Digital

“It’s great to see innovative and new business models like Uber come to Edmonton,” stated former Mayor Bill Smith. “I’ve always believed that embracing change is the best path to success. Uber’s technology will create opportunity and more transportation options for our citizens, helping this city continue to grow.”

A few weeks ago, Paula Simons hit on another reason why Edmontonians will support Uber:

“The dated oligopoly model simply doesn’t offer enough competition to improve customer service — as any Edmontonian who has been stranded on a snowy street corner by a phantom cab can attest. If Edmonton taxi companies and city officials don’t want Uber here, they need to deliver better service.”

More broadly in Canada, the Competition Bureau has publicly stated they see benefits from Uber. They encouraged municipalities to explore “whether less restrictive regulations could adequately address their concerns.”

The road to launch in Edmonton

There’s nothing from a legal or regulatory point-of-view that has changed to make Uber’s foray into Edmonton possible, so there is a little bit of uncertainty regarding how the service will be received.

Uber has met with City of Edmonton officials a couple of times over the last few months, but so far the response has been icy. Garry Dziwenka, Director of Business Licensing and Vehicle for Hire, has said the city is particularly worried about UberX. In some cities Uber drivers have been charged with bylaw infractions, sometimes through sting operations. The same thing could happen here in Edmonton.

At the September 2 meeting of Executive Committee, Mayor Iveson made an inquiry about third-party apps like Uber and their relation to the Vehicle for Hire regulations. A report is due back from City Administration in January, and Uber has said it will be there to discuss the findings.

The taxi industry is understandably worried about Uber. About a month ago, the Edmonton Taxi Service Group noted the legal battle Uber faces in Vancouver and said that if the company came to Edmonton, “we’ll do what we have to do”. They’re ready to go to court. The Vehicle for Hire Industry Advisory Group has discussed Uber at each of its last four meetings. A cooperative group made up of members of the taxi and limousine industry, the advisory group has no power to govern the industry but is convened by the City to provide advice (City Council’s Vehicle for Hire Commission was disbanded in March 2012). The advisory group was slated to discuss the pending report in response to Mayor Iveson’s inquiry last week.

It could just be coincidence, but I’ve noticed a concerted effort by the City to educate citizens about illegal cabs recently. The campaign began around Halloween and included a survey on the Edmonton Insight Community. Earlier this month the City announced you can now report problem cabs using your smartphone. Again, it could just be a coincidence, but the timing does seem suspect.

In his op-ed yesterday, Chris LaBossiere discussed the debate about Uber in Edmonton:

“Cities around the world are fighting ride-sharing services, instead of adapting to work with them. My own discussions with some of our politicians and bureaucrats lead me to believe that Edmonton will be no different.”

I tend to agree. He continued:

“We are about to see a fierce debate play out in our city. The taxi industry will fight ride-sharing services. They naturally want to protect their monopoly. Some establishment-thinking politicians and bureaucrats will lack the courage to change our regulations and accept a product that virtually everyone wants.”

I am happy to see Uber launch in Edmonton and I believe their participation in the transportation marketplace will ultimately be a good thing for Edmontonians. It won’t be easy though.

Controversy seems to follow Uber

To say that Uber is controversial might be an understatement, and not just with taxi companies. They have been sued by Los Angeles and San Francisco, they’re banned in Dehli, the company faces dozens of charges and legal troubles in Toronto (despite support from Mayor John Tory), and their business practices have been increasingly under the microscope. Uber is accused of digging up dirt on journalists who criticize the company, and they got into a very public fight with PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy as a result. They’re also accused of creating thousands of fake requests to cause trouble for rival service Lyft.

Here’s a collection of headlines I came across just this week related to Uber:

I’m generally a believer that where there’s smoke there’s fire, so it’s definitely worrying to hear of Uber’s questionable business practices. Do I want to do business with a company that seems to play dirty so brazenly?

On the other hand, Uber is a disruptive force all around the world. They’re attacking established markets in hundreds of cities all with different rules and regulations and all at the same time. They need to be aggressive if they’re going to succeed, and they’re going to ruffle a few feathers along the way.

What’s next?

I used Uber in Miami last week, and I plan to use it here in Edmonton also. Along with public transportation and carsharing services like Pogo, having Uber in Edmonton makes the prospect of not owning a vehicle even more realistic. It’ll be a positive force for competition in the city.

I have no doubt that Uber competitors like Lyft will follow (in fact they tweeted to me that they’d like to come up to Edmonton soon). If Uber has already done the heavy lifting, why not enter the market also? I wouldn’t expect that to happen until whatever legal tussles that might occur have been dealt with, but it’ll happen.

Uber is here and they’re here to stay. They’ll fight whatever challenges come up just as they have done in other markets. If the service is embraced by Edmontonians, the regulations and monopolies will eventually give way. For the next month they’ll be flying a little under the radar, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens after the City report is released in January. Get ready for some fireworks!

You can follow Uber in Edmonton on Twitter. Here’s their official blog post about UberX in Edmonton.