Let's Get a Move on: Edmonton's Ride-Sharing Bylaws

As summer fades out, we’ve come back around to one of the top issues from last winter, that of ride-sharing companies operating in the City.

The last time Council discussed this, we requested that Administration develop some bylaw amendments that would allow ride-sharing companies to operate legally in Edmonton, while keeping in mind the safety of Edmontonians. Those proposed bylaw amendments have come back, and will be discussed at a Public Hearing on September 16th.

Since winter, there has been misinformation circling about Council’s stance on ride-sharing. To be clear, Council never opposed ride-sharing companies operating here. We simply wanted time for Administration to look at amending the bylaw to allow the companies to operate legally, and for ride-sharing providers to ensure that their drivers have proper insurance.

Big Changes

Administration has brought forward amendments to the bylaw governing vehicles for hire. These amendments are leading edge - if adopted, we would be one of the first municipalities to adopt bylaws to regulate, and allow, the operation of ride-sharing services.

The three most substantive changes being proposed to the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw are:

  • allowing technology-based companies, like Uber, that have mobile app dispatch services to operate.

  • standardizing all vehicle for hire class requirements to include mandatory criminal record checks, proper class of provincial licence, proper insurance and yearly mechanical inspections.

  • there are now the same fees for licences for all classes of vehicles for hire.

Throughout the bylaw, ride-sharing vehicles would be held to similar rules as other private transportation providers like limousines and shuttle services.

The Effect on Taxis

These bylaw amendments would also have some effects on the taxi industry, which industry insiders are rightly concerned about. By maintaining some separation in the bylaw between public transportation providers (taxis) and private ones (ride-sharing, limos, shuttles), we would be offering some protection to taxis. They would still be the only services that could operate as a flag down service, and they have exclusive access to taxi-stands throughout the City.

But even with these conditions, amendments to allow ride-sharing services could mean a decrease in the number of users for traditional taxi services. This is going to require some evolution on the part of taxi-service operators.

But one thing we’ve heard out of all of this is that Edmontonians were, and are, dissatisfied with our current vehicle-for-hire situation. The amendments to allow ride-sharing services will provide access to a service that many Edmontonians have been asking for. We as a Council have a responsibility to ensure that the City’s bylaws on this topic are reflective of the market and the needs of Edmontonians, and that’s the standard that inspired these proposed amendments.

The bylaw, as amended, isn’t designed to create perfect equity between ride-sharing companies and taxi companies. It’s to create appropriate regulations for a product that is already in the market, and is already well used.

Many in the taxi industry have cried foul about ride-sharing, saying that it creates inequity in the industry. But the inequity that already exists in the taxi industry between brokers, plate holders, and taxi drivers has been creating problems in the industry for a long time now; if anything, the advent of ride-sharing will force these taxi industry groups to sort out their differences.

Implications for Uber

When most people hear the term ride-sharing, they immediately think Uber. The implications of these proposed bylaw amendments for Uber could be substantial. If passed, it would mean that Uber could be operating legally in the City.

But there is a big caveat to this. Don’t forget that proper insurance is a requirement for operation as a private transportation provider. The validity of Uber’s insurance policy has been called into question multiple times.

At the Council meeting on this issue last winter, the Insurance Board of Canada warned that Uber’s insurance was unlikely to hold up in the case of an accident, and that warning has seemed to hold true, as more and more cases have emerged demonstrating problems with their policies.

If we pass these bylaw amendments, the City will have held up our end - ride-sharing companies will be legal, and there will be regulations that hold them to the same standards as other vehicle for hire services. It would then be up to ride-sharing companies to hold up their end of the regulatory bargain and ensure that all drivers have proper insurance. Otherwise, they won’t be operating legally, even with the proposed bylaw amendments.

Public Hearing

As I mentioned, there will be a public hearing on this matter on September 16th, where the public has the opportunity to provide feedback to Council on the proposed bylaw amendments. If you would like to register to speak at that meeting, you can do so here: http://coewebapps.edmonton.ca/forms/requesttospeak/default.aspx

You can also fill out the survey on the vehicle for hire bylaw amendments here: https://www.edmontoninsightcommunity.ca/S.aspx?s=266&r=yz5wV3um2vB3nO4NF7cn69&so=true&a=556&fromdetect=1