Edmonton’s Uber rules eyed by B.C.

Fassbender starting 'robust' reform consultations on sharing economy, working with taxi industry

Uber's smartphone app won't let you hail a car in B.C. yet

The B.C. government is carefully watching Edmonton’s solution to Uber as it considers how to make room for ride-hailing apps here while preserving a role for existing taxis.

“What Edmonton has done helps to feed the process here in British Columbia,” said Communities Minister Peter Fassbender, who the premier has sent to consult with municipalities, the taxi industry and others as the province mulls potential reforms.

He cautioned that the province is looking at jurisdictions all over the world and it is “early days” to discuss specific elements of the Edmonton model that might be attractive in B.C.

“We’re in a different environment in B.C. with ICBC and the whole insurance side of how this province operates.” Fassbender told Black Press. “So there’s lots of work that has to be done.”

Edmonton city council approved new regulations in late January to legalize Uber.

Passengers who hail cars from the street, at cab stands or by voice phone call to dispatchers can only be picked up by taxis, not Uber cars – effectively penning off a chunk of business for conventional cabs.

Uber cars must charge a minimum $3.25 fare – which Edmonton council has warned it could easily raise if it detects predatory pricing.

Taxis, meanwhile, won’t be subject to their traditional regulated fares when they’re hailed by taxi company apps, allowing them to compete on price with Uber cars for rides matched by smartphone.

“It creates room for taxis to continue to be successful within their niche but it opens up room for competition and ensures safety in the private transportation side,” Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson told reporters.

Uber must pay the city fees of $70,000 a year to operate, part of which would go to accessible transportation improvements.

Not anyone with a car could simply sign up for Uber and start picking up passengers.

Edmonton insists Uber drivers have a provincially approved licence – expected to be more than a basic class 5 driver’s licence – as well as commercial insurance and a city licence. Violators face $5,000 fines.

Criminal record checks and annual vehicle inspections are required.

Uber is to halt operations March 1 in Edmonton and not resume until the conditions are met.

Fassbender said he held a conference call with taxi industry reps to reassure them the province will carefully consider their concerns and take no precipitous action.

“There is no definitive decision on the part of government to move in any particular direction other than recognizing technology is playing a significant role in this industry,” he stressed.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone fanned speculation last month when he said Uber’s arrival in B.C. was “a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if.'”

New Democrats have called for an open debate on the issue. They suspect unfair influence by Uber, which hired two former aides from the premier’s office as lobbyists.

Fassbender wouldn’t give a timeline for the consultations or say if the province will outline specific options under consideration.

“We’re going to be doing a very complete and robust look at what the issues are, and what regulations may be helping or hindering any sector of our communities – especially our friends in the taxi industry, because they have a lot invested and a lot at stake.”

B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang said the Edmonton model is silent on various B.C. taxi requirements, from compliance with the passenger bill of rights to the commitment to low-emission and accessible vehicles.

“Edmonton council should have put a limit on the number of Uber vhicles on the road,” Kang said.

Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath applauded the Edmonton’s “progressive” approach and said Uber is eager to work with B.C.

Fassbender is also to consider other aspects of what’s dubbed the sharing economy, such as the rising use of Airbnb to offer unregulated vacation rentals.

It has sparked some concern that the trend could could crimp the supply of normal rental housing if too many home owners find short-term rentals more lucrative, while undercutting operators of regulated bed and breakfasts or hotels.

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