With many road blocks still ahead, the path to Uber coming to Winnipeg is looking shorter as the company pushes aggressively for change in the province.

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This article was published 31/8/2016 (1843 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With many road blocks still ahead, the path to Uber coming to Winnipeg is looking shorter as the company pushes aggressively for change in the province.

The company behind the world's largest ride-sharing app has begun publicly encouraging Winnipeggers to voice their opinion on the state of Winnipeg's taxicab industry, as an independent review of the industry gets underway.

An email from the company has been sent to Winnipeggers, encouraging them to fill out a survey being conducted on behalf of the Manitoba Taxicab Board. The company is also encouraging the board to follow in the footsteps of other cities that have allowed Uber to operate.

"We encourage the Province of Manitoba and Manitoba Taxicab Board to develop smart ride-sharing regulations similar to what Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Niagara Region have adopted," said the email sent out recently to an undisclosed number of Winnipeggers, linked to the SurveyMonkey survey being conducted by consulting firm MNP.

Meanwhile, a lobbyist for Uber has been registered with the provincial registry since May — meeting with several ministers including Municipal Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke — to "outline benefits of transportation network company regulation/legislation for transportation policy within the Province of Manitoba."

The company has been notoriously silent on its plans for Winnipeg, but said in an email statement it "aims to expand to communities across Canada and we're always looking at what's next."

What's next for Winnipeg is the independent review, which will ultimately steer the provincially appointed board on issues such as ride-sharing and customer service, explained Coun. Ross Eadie, who represents the board for city council. The board is in charge of licensing and regulating all taxicabs in Winnipeg under the authority of The Manitoba Taxicab Act.

"Ultimately if Uber comes in, it has to be on a fair playing field and for the Taxicab Board and the government to make decisions, we need to have the proper data to understand how the industry is doing right now," said Eadie. "No one is saying yes or no at this point because we don't know what the demand for taxi services is."

Uber operates as a phone app, where users will request a ride and be linked to a nearby driver. The driver, who holds a commercial driver's licence, uses their own vehicle to pick up the rider. All transactions are connected to the app and no money ever exchanges hands between the driver and rider. Insurance options vary from city to city, but Alberta and Ontario have recently approved an insurance policy thatl is specific for ride-sharing coverage.

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, drivers obtaining a taxicab driver’s licence are required by law to have plexiglass screens between the front and back seats, insurance coverage that costs about seven times the rate of non-commercial vehicles, and a criminal background check.

The Winnipeg Taxi Alliance, a lobby group representing about 1,600 employees of cab companies Unicity and Duffy's, said they are not concerned on the outcome of the review.

"In Toronto you have two sets of rules offering the same types of services. It is incredibly unfair," said spokesman Michael Diamond. "This review is important, the taxi industry started to respond to consumer desires, like an app and a complaints website and we will continue to do that. That is where our industry's focus is."

Provincial officials have been mum on the issue as they await the results of the board's review, but say they are "committed to ensuring a level playing field," said provincial spokesman David von Meyenfeldt.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has been longtime supporters of updating the province's regulations when it comes to all types of "sharing economy" businesses, such as other ride-sharing companies like Lyft or online rental-sharing company Airbnb.

"This isn't an Uber issue, this is a 'sharing economy' issue...this is the nature of our economy more and more," said the chamber's president and CEO, Loren Remillard. "When you take a look at where Uber is operating...77 listed as operating in North America, Winnipeg is a community that should be on that list in terms of our size, our economy."

Remillard also referenced a recent citizen-created petition started a couple weeks ago, which now has over 600 signatures. The petition calls on the province and board for "Uber or Uber-like regulations."

"This indicates that the market itself, we want this option, we want this choice," he said.

A spokesman for Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said the mayor supports ride-sharing alternatives, but said city council has no jurisdiction over the matter.

"The decision to make the necessary amendments to The Manitoba Taxicab Act and associated regulations, along with any decision to allow for alternative ride-share options, such as Uber, lies with the provincial Manitoba Taxicab Board," said Jonathan Hildebrand.

Officials from Uber came to Winnipeg last October and hinted to the Free Press that entry into Winnipeg is inevitable.

"We can’t put the genie back in the bottle," said Uber’s Canadian public policy manager Chris Schafer.

With files from Martin Cash

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca