Over the last number of months Uber has been a key focal point of discussion at City Hall. My office has received feedback from numerous residents about how great of a service Uber is and how they hope Uber is here to stay.
I have had the opportunity to sit down with Uber and discuss the challenges we need to work on together. I have told Uber that I think they offer a fantastic service and that they have an important role to play in Calgary’s transportation future. I have also stressed that there are some important regulatory hurdles that need to be cleared before I can be satisfied with Uber’s operations in Calgary. I will make one thing perfectly clear about this process; this is not a discussion on whether or not Uber is good. The bottom line is that Uber is currently operating illegally in Calgary.
At a recent transportation technology conference in Calgary Uber was referred to as a disruptive technology (the context of the phrase was actually complimentary to Uber). By nature Uber offers a new and unique transportation alternative for users. While the service is innovative, Uber’s operating model conflicts directly with policies and bylaws that the City of Calgary has in place. Many Calgarians have expressed that they are not supportive of the existing bylaw that is in place, and would like to see an amendment to allow Uber to legally operate in Calgary. Council has responded with a request of Administration to draw up a new bylaw that better serves Calgarians and opens the door for companies like Uber. Until such an amendment happens, the existing bylaw is in place and must be adhered to. Disagreeing with a law does not make it acceptable to break it.
You can read more about the City of Calgary’s policy regarding private-for-hire companies like Uber here.
The City has asked Uber to cease operations until some of the legalities around their operations are sorted out. Uber has opted to continue operations. On Monday Council passed a motion asking Administration to draft a bylaw that would effectively regulate Uber and allow them to operate legally. Council also agreed on four provisions that Uber would need to adhere to if they wished to operate legally until such a time that a new bylaw is passed:
- Commercial Insurance. The Provincial Government has made it very clear that the insurance that Uber would require is not currently available in Alberta. Any vehicle that is used for commercial purposes must have a commercial insurance policy. You are not able to take out a commercial insurance policy for your personal vehicle. Uber drivers currently use personal insurance policies. If an accident were to occur and a passenger were harmed, there would be no guarantees that an insurance company would cover damages (in fact, the advice we have been given suggests the insurance company would not provide coverage). This issue is 100% in the hands of the Provincial Government and has nothing to do with the City of Calgary. Uber is currently working with the Province to develop an insurance company that Uber drivers could make use of. You can learn more here.
- Vehicle inspections through a government agency. It must be verified that vehicles are safe for Calgarians. Uber vehicles, much like taxis, should be carefully inspected to a standard that is satisfactory for the City of Calgary.
- Annual background checks through a government agency. Again, it must be verified that Calgarians will be safe. Uber drivers, much like taxi drives, should be annually screened to a standard that is satisfactory for the City of Calgary.
- The Provincial Government currently mandates that taxi drivers must have a Class IV driver’s licence. Until additional legislation can be passed, Uber drivers should be under a similar set of rules.
It is important to understand that this is a legal issue, and not a political one. The regulations that are being proposed are very similar to what is done in many other cities around the world. The City is working towards an agreeable solution for all parties, and we remain hopeful that Uber will respect and adhere to the rules that are currently in place.