While on the surface it seems as though all parties did the right thing in Alberta and Edmonton regarding Uber, there is now an undercurrent of controversy brewing that could scupper the chances of the ride-sharing company ever being legal in the city of Edmonton.
Edmonton voted to legalize Uber in January, but the U.S. based company was unable to gets necessary auto insurance cleared in time and must now wait until the summer. Under the agreement with the city (which asked for a business license, commercial insurance and Class 4 driver licenses), Uber was forced to pull out of the market until the province of Alberta improves insurance for the company, which will happen at the start of the summer.
So far so good, but there is a potential problem as Uber has hinted that it will continue to operate in the Edmonton outskirt town of St. Albert. The company says it is doing so unregulated and that the Edmonton bylaw does not apply for St. Albert, but in the eyes of Transportation Minister Brian Mason, it would be in bad faith.
“That’s a very interesting proposition. I had not been aware that Uber was going to try and deliberately operate against the law. That concerns me a great deal and we’ll be having some conversations with our officials.
“I’m concerned that Uber would say that they’re going to continue to operate illegally,” Mason said during a transit announcement in Edmonton on Tuesday morning.
“That doesn’t show the corporate responsibility that we would expect from the companies that want to operate in our province.”
Mason says Uber would need the same stipulations as found in the bylaw to work in St. Albert, but the company disagrees, even if Mason is suggesting the continued operation could cause problems for Uber’s legality in Edmonton.
The mayor of St. Albert, Nolan Crouse, said the city is not well served by the traditional taxi service and needs Uber, but he said law enforcement will ticket Uber drivers under the name of the new bylaw. Uber says it is discussing with St. Albert the possibility of creating a separate legislation that would allow the company to work in the city. However, any new legislation is likely to make similar demands as the Edmonton bylaw.
Uber agreed to the Edmonton stipulations, but it has now emerged that the company has tried to get some of the regulations relaxed or even removed. The company asked Mason to remove the Class 4 license stipulation and also relax the need for detailed police reports for all Uber drivers, mirroring practices in the taxi industry.
Mason refused on both counts, and city councilor Dave Loken, who disagrees with the bylaw, says it is Uber’s decisions that prevent it from working legally in the city. Speaking to Edmonton AM, he said:
“We approved a bylaw that’s ready to go today. Uber has the choice to get the proper insurance, and that’s commercial insurance. Uber could operate today … They’ve known for about a year now, in order to operate in our city they would have to obtain the proper insurance.”
“These guys have been less than honorable to deal with through this whole process,” said Loken, who suggested that the company could easily shoulder the added cost of commercial insurance, and continue operating, until the provincial policies are finalized.
“They’re a multi, multi-billion dollar corporation. It’s just bewildering … I’m not entirely convinced that they’re going to stop operating,” said Loken. “They’ve been breaking the law in this city ever since they’ve come on the scene.”
In Ontario the province has yet to draw up regulations for Uber, but the company has not had to sort out its own insurance needs. Aviva Canada’s unique and first of its kind ride-sharing auto insurance policy gives Uber drivers (and operative from other companies) a new coverage policy. It is not an Uber specific policy and Aviva does not work with the company, but the FSCO approved policy has certainly removed a significant barrier for Uber in the country’s most populated province.