March 29, 2017

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Legislation first step for Uber arrival

ERIC RISBERG / AP</p>

ERIC RISBERG / AP

It's official. Uber is on the way to Winnipeg.

Manitoba opened the door to ride-sharing services such as Uber on Monday with the introduction of the Local Vehicles for Hire Act. It is enabling legislation that will allow municipalities to create specific bylaws to regulate them as they compete with the legacy taxi industry.

The legislation will dissolve the Manitoba Taxicab Board, formerly the licensing and regulatory body governing the industry, and will pass off all of the responsibilities for the ride for hire business onto municipalities.

The act covers limousines and other car services and includes those hired via online platforms. It is to come into force no later than Feb. 28, 2018.

Eileen Clarke, Minister for Indigenous and Municipal Relations, said the province will continue to work with the city but said there has been no discussions regarding assisting the city in the cost of setting up such a regulatory system.

She said, "The city will have the option to write their own by-laws and we are not going to speculate at this time in what avenue they will take to modernize the business. We will work with them in a transition period to discuss what they want to do going forward."

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman said he was caught totally unaware that the province was assigning the Taxicab Board's responsibilities to the city, but said he was excited at the prospect of ride sharing services finally coming to Winnipeg.

"I believe this is an opportunity for customers and the City of Winnipeg to be presented with new options and with innovation," Bowman said. "We'll review what they've (the province) proposed right now and we will have discussions with them."

All existing licences that are in place will remain valid and will transfer to a municipal licence when the city has its office in place. Clarke also said the province is not contemplating any compensation for current licence holders, some of whom have paid more than $200,000 for their licence on the secondary market.

Taxi drivers have been up in arms about the prospects of the entry of ride sharing business in the city. But Michael Diamond, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance, a lobby group set up by existing dispatch companies Unicity and Duffy's, was surprisingly calm about the developments.

"We believe that if there is a level playing field, our members will be able to compete," he said.

Clarke said it was well known that changes were coming after the release of the MNP review of Winnipeg's taxi industry in December that was commissioned by the Taxicab Board.

That report recommended allowing ride-sharing services into the Winnipeg market. It also showed conclusively that Winnipeg was significantly under-serviced by the industry, with only one cab for every 1,252 people, compared to an average of one for every 860 people in other Canadian cities of comparable size.

Susie Heath, a spokeswoman for Uber Canada, said they will work closely with the city and the province in this process.

"We hope to bring ride sharing to Winnipeg soon so that Winnipeggers can benefit from another safe, reliable way to get around their city and a flexible income earning opportunity," she said, "As Mayor Bowman stated in his recent State of the City address with respect to ride sharing services like Uber, 'Let's get it done'."

The MNP report also recommended adding 150 standard taxicab licences to the 410 currently issued, a number that has remained flat since 2008, although the city's population has grown by seven per cent since then.

Uber is already operating in several Canadian cities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo.

The Silicon Valley corporation has become a global phenomenon. Uber currently operates in 81 countries and 581 cities.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

- with files from Aldo Santin

Read more by Martin Cash.

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Updated on Monday, March 20, 2017 at 6:13 PM CDT: writethrough

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