The issue of private transportation providers (PTPs, or transportation network companies) and the challenges posed to our City’s bylaws and traditional taxi industry, has been under the microscope for nearly a year. Since last December, when app-based multi-national Uber began (illegal) operations in Edmonton, the City has been working with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to resolve concerns over insurance, licensing, and public safety. It has also re-examined the regulatory framework for taxis in order to approach a level playing field between taxis and PTPs.
The draft Vehicle For Hire Bylaw which as resulted from these considerations is not perfect. It has been reviewed, debated, revised, amended, and reconsidered multiple times since it was released in September. Neither Uber nor the taxi industry are particularly happy about it. But that is precisely because it is balanced – it offers no clear “win” for other side, while requiring both to compromise, to adjust their practices, models, and expectations. On the other hand, the real win is that the proposed regulations allow for more choice for consumers and a more competitive market, while ensuring safety standards are in place.
That’s why Tuesday’s non-decision to return the draft bylaw to Administration for “further revisions” is so frustrating. As the provincial government and the City of Calgary begin their own process of grappling with this issue, Edmonton needs to set the bar and commit to a way forward.
For all that Uber’s business model is opportunistic and its practices spurious and antagonistic, avenues to block them from operating have not worked. Rideshare companies offer a flexibility that is in demand, and we cannot ignore the implications. We cannot preserve the status quo. However, the regulations are in place to protect consumers and ensure that there is not a surplus of hire vehicles competing for a finite market.
We as a Council need to be bold enough to make a decision on Uber, on taxis, knowing that whatever new framework is decided will have consequences, will need to evolve with the changing industry, and will make some people unhappy. It will be imperfect, but it is necessary.