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Uber Launches In Calgary Despite City Bylaws

10/15/2015 01:28 EDT | Updated 10/15/2015 04:59 EDT
NICOLAS MAETERLINCK via Getty Images
The logo of Uber car service app is seen on a smart phone during a protest by Brussels taxi drivers against the taxi-app Uber, on September 13, 2015, in Brussels. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK =BELGIUM OUT= (Photo credit should read NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Never mind the bylaws — Uber is set to launch in Calgary whether it's allowed to or not.

Starting on Thursday afternoon, UberX will be offering rides to Calgarians. The company says 500 "driving partners" will be ready to go, and Calgarians new to the service will be able to enjoy two free rides through the weekend.

It claims that fares will be 30 per cent cheaper than a traditional taxi.

Uber already operates in several other Canadian cities, but the ride-sharing company has faced an uphill battle in both Calgary and Edmonton. Opponents say that Uber's lack of regulation puts passengers at risk and gives the company an unfair advantage against the taxi industry which must follow strict rules.

"Know the risks"

In advance of Uber's launch, provincial and city officials, including the mayor, are warning passengers to steer clear of the service.

"By taking this service, you put yourself at risk, folks," said Marc Halat, Calgary’s manager of compliance services, said at a press conference Thursday morning. "Be cautious getting into any vehicle that has not been licensed or regulated through this office."

Halat also warned UberX drivers that if they pick up a fare, they will be breaching bylaw and could face a minimum fine of $1,500.

"I want to be clear that first of all we welcome this new technology, we welcome innovation, and we want to improve our services," Halat said. "However ... we can’t compromise on what we stand for, and that is public safety."

Passengers who choose to use Uber are not breaking the bylaw and will not face any legal ramifications.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi echoed the officials' concerns, and said that he was "disappointed" that Uber has chosen to commence operations without first addressing outstanding issues.

"I strongly suggest that you don’t drive for Uber and that you don’t use Uber until the insurance and regulatory issues are sorted out. If you drive for Uber, you should be aware that you are breaking the law," Nenshi said in a statement.

Unclear insurance

Alberta's superintendent of insurance is also advising Albertans to avoid the ride-sharing service, pointing out that Uber hasn't been exactly clear with customers about the company's insurance situation:

Drivers using Uber ride sharing services may believe that Uber’s supplemental insurance provides the necessary coverage. This is currently not the case in Alberta.

Passengers participating in ride sharing services should always ask for proof of commercial insurance coverage from their driver. If a passenger is riding with a driver who does not have adequate insurance, the passenger is at risk of not having access to automobile insurance protection, including accident benefits or any compensation for injuries they may suffer in the event of a collision.

Despite the warnings, entrepreneur and former "Dragons' Den" cast member Brett Wilson became Uber's first official Calgary customer on Thursday.

“Calgary is a city full of smart, connected people who’ve been anxiously awaiting the innovation that Uber brings to cities," Wilson said in a news release issued by Uber. He added that ride-sharing will be "a boon for our local economy."

Uber has faced continued, heavy resistance from the taxi industry.

Halat noted that though taxis will be hurt by the service, they are partially to blame for the situation: "Past poor performance by taxis has had an impact, whether it’s Uber, Car2Go … this is always a direct result, in all likelihood, of poor service."

In Edmonton, taxi complaints have been piling up, making Uber an increasingly popular alternative. Battles over regulation at Edmonton's city council have gotten heated, with a September council meeting devolving into a shirtless protest from the cab drivers.

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