City administration approved a recommendation at a Standing Policy Committee on Transportation meeting on Monday morning that city council “communicate its support to the province for the regulation of transportation network companies at a provincial level.” They also recommended that administration contact the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) and other cities as they move forward with possible regulations and licencing for the app-based service.
“At the end of the day a service like Uber would be operating and requiring proper insurance, proper registration, proper drivers licence, who issues those? Those all come from Saskatchewan Government Insurance,” Coun. Darren Hill said.
“That is the group that should be looking at introducing the regulations and then bringing them into our municipal market here.”
In May, Uber spoke to the transportation committee about the benefits of bringing the service to Saskatoon but did not provide a timeline for moving into Saskatoon and only said they are in the process of meeting with stakeholders.
City administration said they are aware that the province, SGI and Uber have had conversations “but no information as to the exact nature of the discussions was forthcoming. Therefore, it is not clear where these discussions might lead.”
“We haven’t had as much information as we would like in the time lines we would like for some of the agencies involved, I hope that changes,” Coun. Mairin Loewen said.
Loewen said before the City can make any decisions about how to create an equitable approach between the existing taxi companies and any new ride-sharing service there needs to be a provincial regulatory response, which can take time. She voiced her concern that without a timely response, Uber drivers might set up shop before they are in place.
“(We need) consistency in terms of training and consistency in terms of guarantees in safety, things like criminal record checks, insuring the process is the same for all companies. Beyond that we have some unanswered questions around accessibility.”
SGI said its role, if Uber decided to come to the province, would be registration, insurance, and driver’s licences.
SGI’s website explained that transporting passengers for compensation with regular plate is not allowed and can result in fined or may jeopardize vehicle insurance coverage. Licences under the Black Car or Airport service seen in Saskatoon would also not apply because Class PB (limousine) vehicles aren’t allowed to operate like a taxi, which means they can’t be used with a ride-share application.
During the meeting, four representatives from the taxi industry stood up to voice their concerns about the introduction of Uber into the city’s transportation market.
“It could wreck the whole industry depending on how successful they are, it’s scary. I really question why we really need it,” Jim Frie with Comfort Cabs said.
Frie, who has been in the industry for 55 years, said the City licenses taxi plates and can provide more if there is an evident need. He said the concern lies with the multiple regulations the taxi industry follows which app-based services might avoid.
“They will put on other cars that can operate cheaper than we can. We have rules to obey from city hall, SGI, Highway Traffic Board,” he said.
“So it’s pretty tight ropes we have to walk on and try to be a good service as well.”
Taxi Driver Javed Mian voiced his concerns about the safety of passengers when there aren’t the same regulations as taxis.
“What is the procedure adopted by Uber to hire drivers because we get… our information directly from the City or the police,” he said, adding that online submissions can lead to forgery.
“A pedophile could be driving kids around or someone with a very dangerous criminal record could be driving people around.”
Councillor Hill said Mian was “fear mongering” and said the comment was unfair. Hill himself has gone through a large portion of the registration process to become an Uber driver.
“It was extremely detailed in terms of my registration, my insurance coverage that I have, my driver’s abstract. It’s a very detailed process,” he said, adding that he will not be driving until regulations are in place.
The app-based service has been in Canada for about three years. Uber is already available in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton.
Passenger Lila Wager said app-based services are inevitably going to also move into Saskatoon.
“I don’t think that the cab industry that we have in Saskatoon is as effective as we would like to believe it is,” she said. “Especially during the busy seasons you could be waiting for a half hour to an hour for a cab to come through … I’d love to see competition.”
When asked about regulations and passenger safety, Wagner said she thinks many people would chose to try out a new service.
“If there is a possibility that I might want to take a risk in going to a service like Uber, that’s what I’ll do,” she said. “I’m not saying I’d like to see them in the city and I’m not saying I wouldn’t. I’m just saying we are talking about an inevitable movement.”