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Uber Gains Ground As Edmonton Taxi Complaints Pile Up

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Daveography.ca/Flickr
Daveography.ca/Flickr

As complaints and tickets against Edmonton taxis accumulate, fans of the ride-sharing company Uber will be eagerly awaiting the outcome of a proposed new bylaw that would require Uber drivers to have commercial insurance.

Currently, the ride-sharing app requires drivers to rely on their own personal insurance.

So, while the bylaw would bring Uber out of a legal grey zone, it will potentially make it more difficult for Uber drivers, says spokesman Xavier Van Chau.

"With such rules, riders face the prospect of higher prices and unreliable service," said Chau, explaining that many drivers work either part-time or short-term for Uber, and that special licences and high fees could be too taxing for the drivers.

Uber allows customers to summon the ride-sharing service via smartphone app. Drivers use personal vehicles and are rated on their service by customers, making it an appealingly cost-effective and transparent alternative to a traditional taxi service.

The city of Edmonton received 135 complaints against taxi drivers in 2014, reports the Edmonton Journal.

Complaints included a $47 detour taken without the passenger’s consent, a driver that refused to pick up a passenger with a guide dog, and a driver that, after being confronted about watching a tablet while driving, dropped the passenger off at a random location.

This is on top of 336 enforcement tickets handed out to taxi drivers the same year, according to a freedom of information request the Journal obtained from the city’s vehicle-for-hire complaint and infraction databases.

Only 17 of those tickets were issued after a customer complaint, as many unhappy passengers are unwilling to go through the court process, the Journal added.

It’s a compelling reason for customers to turn to alternatives in the sharing economy, such as Uber, the Edmonton Sun argued in a weekend editorial.

"Municipalities are racing to catch up to technology that residents, especially younger ones, have embraced. Edmonton seems poised to win that race, proposing a bylaw that would legalize Uber so long as drivers purchase licences from the city and have proper insurance.

It seems a reasonable road forward — or at least a first step down that road. It is up to municipalities to address the changing landscape, making the good and safety of the public their prime goal."

However, United Cabbies Association president Bahaj Manhas said his group will oppose the changes that would allow Uber to operate legally, noting that the fluctuating fares that ride-share companies charge would hurt licensed cab drivers.

"Picking the pockets of the drivers who have been working for a long time. It's going to be a big setback for their income because there will be an unlimited number of taxis in the street," Manhas said over the weekend.

Uber is working on the insurance issue in hopes to placate nervous legislators and consumers. The company announced this morning that they will partner with Intact Financial, one of Canada's largest auto insurers.

City council’s public hearing on the bylaw is set for Sept. 16.

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