Today, Council is poised to pass Bylaw 17400 in second and third reading. This Bylaw comes after months of debate and would create a legal mechanism for allowing Uber to operate in Edmonton.
There’s perhaps no more controversial topic in Ward 12 than the introduction of Uber to the legalized Edmonton marketplace. As I go door to door, meeting thousands of my neighbours, I’ve heard hundreds of opinions about the vehicle-for-hire industry and the people this industry affects. The question is often structured as an either/ or: “Are you for Uber? Or, are you for taxis?” I don’t think the question is nearly that simple, and neither are the answers.
First and foremost, today’s Bylaw has a process problem. It’s unacceptable that Ward 12 won’t have a democratically elected Councillor at the table for today’s vote. With 35% of taxi drivers living in Ward 12, we are home to more taxi drivers than any other ward in the City, and these numbers are apparent in my conversations with citizens. On January 24th, I spoke with over 200 representatives from Edmonton’s taxi industry, and all of them were unhappy that they wouldn’t have their own elected Councillor to take their feedback and register their concerns at today’s debate.
The timeline is particularly troubling to me, as acting branch manager Peter Ohm has called for a delay of implementation on the Bylaw until June 1st, well after a Ward 12 Councillor would be available for this vote. Why the rush?
Apart from process, I still have concerns about Bylaw 17400 in its current form around Fairness, Accessibility, and Safety.
Fairness: The proposed Uber licensing fee is $70,000/ year, (including $20,000 for an accessible taxi fund). Today, that would equate to less than $20/ Uber with the current number of Uber cars operating in Edmonton, plus the additional $0.06/ trip. Taxi rates will remain at $400 per year. It’s unclear that the minor advantages for taxis — hailing rights and taxi stands — would make this disparity a fair deal.
Accessibility: Uber does not guarantee the use of accessible transportation for persons with disabilities. Under the proposed bylaw, Uber will pay $20,000 annually into an accessible taxi fund, and this fund would pay for a minimal number of accessible taxis. Contrast these numbers with Seattle, where a similar fund sees an Uber contribution of $850,000 annually. Why the disparity between these contribution rates? And, how do we ensure that accessible vehicles stay on the market so everyone has access to transportation?
Safety: Alberta regulation says the operator of a motor vehicle is responsible for ensuring that children under the age of six are properly strapped into a car seat. The exception to this rule is taxis when driving passengers, and public transport when transporting passengers. The word “taxi” is explicitly used in regulation. How does this apply to Uber?
Uber has no official car seat policy, but in places where Uber Family car-seat vehicles are available, the parent is responsible for strapping the child into the car. What happens if a child is hurt? Who is legally responsible? Does Uber’s insurance cover this, or is Uber going to go to court against these parents? As a daycare owner, child safety is always at the forefront of my mind, and these questions are especially important to me.
The bottom line on the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw is that this debate isn’t about Uber vs. Taxis: it’s about good process, and good policy. The citizens of Ward 12 still have questions and concerns about Bylaw 17400. We deserve a thoughtful discussion and a voice in this decision.