March 2019

Saskatoon approves Uber — Halifax staff deem ridesharing ‘inevitable’

by Mike Beggs

Uber is officially open for business in Saskatoon, and Halifax is heading down the same road.

Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) received approval from Saskatoon City Council last August. And as of February 5 the Uber app was operational, with dozens of Uber X cars hitting the streets.

Saskatchewan General Insurance Minister Joe Hargrave took the inaugural ride, declaring it, “a great day for (this province).”

“We’re very excited to be live in Saskatoon today, and look forward to being a part of the community, and being a part of the transportation network in Saskatoon for generations to come,” Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s G.M. of Western Canada, told CBC News.

In August of 2017, Uber made a formal request to politicians in Saskatoon and Regina, “to create modern and province-wide regulations for ridesharing”, telling CBC, “riders and drivers across Saskatchewan stand to benefit from new transportation alternatives like Uber.”

The Saskatchewan throne speech welcomed Uber in October of 2017.

Two months later, local cab companies staged a protest outside city hall, fearing this would result in a less than level playing field -- with PTC’s not required to install cameras and maintain vehicle inspections, and enjoying open access to the Saskatoon market. (This has been a common complaint in municipalities the world over, and has prompted the launching of class action suits in Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere.)

Meanwhile, Regina is, likewise, in the process of approving PTC’s.

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere told CBC, “Competition makes for excellent service, and maybe Uber coming in here would be a good way to provide better service.”

Van Hemmen told CBC Saskatchewan has positioned itself to legislate ridesharing faster than any other Canadian province, complete with a groundbreaking public auto insurance setup for PTC drivers.

In November, the British Columbia government approved ridesharing, and will soon begin crafting legislation. The new code is expected to include a cap on the number of PTC vehicles, and stiffer safety and driver standards than in other provinces.

Meanwhile, a staff report in Halifax states that ridesharing services are “inevitable”, and suggests the municipality begin an in-depth look to prepare for their arrival – while acknowledging that licensing them will be a complex process.

According to Global News, this 115-page report from the Halifax Regional Municipality was released in early February, as part of a review of the city’s taxi industry (carried out by Hara Associates).

In a survey of over 1,340 respondents, 88 percent said they want Uber, or Lyft to operate in their city. Almost 73 percent cited safety as the number one reason, while others claimed taxis are too expensive.

“Citizens said that availability, dependability through the app showing potential passengers where the driver is, who the driver is, and the type of vehicle were essential to feeling safer,” the report states.

However, safety concerns have been raised across the world’s major cities, in the wake of countless attacks on PTC passengers and drivers, alike – including an inordinate number of sexual assaults, and several homicides.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald observed that, “Uber is condemned by many to be an unregulated taxi service that operates without proper security and insurance measures. And regulated taxi drivers allege it’s (taking away) business with unsafe services and slashed prices, subsidized by the $70-billion corporation.”

According to Global News, Hara cited several advantages to allowing PTC’s in including lower prices, push button convenience, the driver and passenger rating system, and ease of payment. His list of disadvantages included questions over the PTC criminal background check process, how much commercial insurance PTC’s should carry, the impact it will have on existing taxi and limos services, and the fact that while taxi and limo drivers require a Class 4 license, PTC drivers would only require the Class 5 license held by most Nova Scotians.

On CBC, Councillor Sam Austin warned, “We can’t put in more regulations for the taxi industry, and then allow a free-for-all. That is not fair at all.”

On February 14, Halifax Today reported that a group of citizens has launched an online petition to bring ridesharing to Halifax by July 1.

Stephen Parker, spokesperson for HRM Ride Hail said he often travels for work, and uses PTC services in other North American cities. He believes Haligonians, and visitors to the city should have the same option.

From a distance, Greater Toronto Area taxi industry members conceded that consumers around the world love ride-sharing – the consequences be damned.

“It’s just the way it’s going. It’s a flood you can’t stop,” observes Mark Sexsmith, manager of All-Star Taxi in Mississauga.

“They feel it’s the solution to everybody’s problems. The councillors see it the same way. But it’s pie in the sky expecting technology will solve all your problems.”

He argues that all for hire drivers must be subject to the same level of driver training, vehicle, and insurance standards.

“You can’t have untrained (PTC) drivers out there, if they drive one day a week. It’s like any other profession, if you drive a tractor trailer one day a week you still (require) a tractor trailer license,” he says.

“And, the vehicles and the insurance have to be in the same ballpark. We can’t be working with one arm tied behind our back by the regulations. They’ve already given these PTC’s all the breaks in the world.”

Owner/operator Gerry Manley suggests cities like Saskatoon and Halifax, “are all following Toronto’s lead in licensing PTC’s – and seeking the added revenues.

“Of course, if it fills the city coffers, why not?” he comments. “And if it’s without regulations, even better because Uber and Lyft are pretty much self-regulated.

“From the consumer’s point of view, certainly they’re going to save 40 percent, but they’re not understanding there are two business models that are entirely different (and an inequitable playing field that is killing the cab industry).”

Contrary to Halifax licensing staff, a veteran Toronto driver named Ahmed alleges the march of Uber is, “not inevitable”, but that the ridesharing Titan has been “buying its way in” to cities -- by paying for an upfront PTC license, and 30 cents on every single run.

“If there are 5,000 cabs, they should only be able to put 5,000 PTC’s on the road. That’s a level playing field,” he adds.

City Taxi driver Geurbachan Ghuman agrees Uber has been flexing its’ muscles, as a $70-billion corporation.

“The new generation loves it, because it’s easy to pay. Old-timers, they don’t like it,” he offers.

He cites a lot of complaints about Uber drivers from his customers.

“They should be sending them for training,” he adds. “(Many of them), they get off the plane, get a G license, and go drive.”

Ahmed agrees, noting, “I had to go to (taxi driver training school) for three weeks, and pay more than $500 for the course.”


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