The mayor of the first Canadian municipality to legalize ride-sharing service Uber is encouraging other jurisdictions struggling with the concept to move quickly to lay out the rules for them to operate.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson also says Canadian cities need to work together to come up with common positions that will protect them from being pushed around.
Mr. Iveson's comments, in an interview Thursday with The Globe and Mail, came a day after his city council voted to allow Uber to legally operate in the Alberta capital as of March 1. The vote in Edmonton took place as other jurisdictions in Canada are grappling with the issue of Uber and ride sharing, with a particularly intense debate in British Columbia at the municipal and provincial levels.
"For us, we went slowly at first so we could understand all the trade-offs and all the impacts on all parties. And then when we had enough information and clear recommendations from our technical experts, then you have to move ahead," he said.
"They're difficult decisions, but dragging out a big change once you have enough information to make decisions generally doesn't serve people."
Edmonton's decision to regulate Uber comes as other cities debate how the ride-sharing service, which has faced fierce resistance from the taxi industry and other critics, can best be regulated. Uber has launched in cities such as Toronto and Ottawa over the objections of local regulators, while it has so far not set up shop in British Columbia, except for a brief period in 2012.
The B.C. government and the City of Vancouver have previously opposed Uber's entrance into the region, but recently their positions have softened. Both levels of government have acknowledged services such as Uber will one day operate – and that could mean new regulations.
Edmonton's Uber approach includes a new class of private transportation providers in the city, and a minimum ride charge of $3.25 for any ride prearranged through a mobile app or written contract. The $3.25 minimum is aimed at deterring free rides that could be seen as predatory. The pricing structure will be re-evaluated in six months.
Only taxis will be able to pick up hails on the street or use taxi stands. Uber drivers will be required to provide proof of proper insurance and class of driver licence.
Fines for operating without the appropriate licensing under the new bylaw will be $5,000.
In a statement, Edmonton's mayor offered a suggestion to the taxi sector: "My hope is that taxi companies will use this opportunity to rewrite their marketing plans and really, truly invest in the kind of technology needed to compete. Because they can."
Mr. Iveson said he is confident that the result creates a balance for ride sharing and the existing cab sector.
He said Edmonton had to act due to megatrends that included declining car ownership, increasing technology and a rigid regulatory structure in the taxi sector. He noted that 90,000 Edmontonians had uploaded the Uber app. "There is pent-up demand that wasn't being met by cabs," he said.
In British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark has asked the minister for TransLink, the Lower Mainland transit authority, to consult with municipalities on how to deal with Uber and ride sharing.
Ms. Clark has designated Uber as part of the sharing economy that she says governments must manage.
On Thursday, she was asked about the Edmonton development, but said she had not seen the city's guidelines. "We're looking at what's happening around the world with an eye to making sure we protect consumers, that safety is there, that vendors are going to be able to deliver a service that's safe and trustworthy for people," she told a news conference in Port Coquitlam.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone has said Uber should apply to operate in British Columbia, but the company has said it is seeking regulatory change ahead of such action.
Vancouver's mayor has called on the provincial government to create new regulations related to Uber. The city imposed a moratorium on Uber in 2014 that remains in place.
Mr. Iveson, who is succeeding Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson next week as chair of the big-city mayors caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said Uber will be a necessary topic when leaders gather in Ottawa.
"A common position helps you not be pushed around, whether it's Uber or a provincial government or the federal government" he said. "We're all facing this Uber issue. Either it's on our doorstep or it has barged its way into our house or it is just around the corner."
He said there is merit at arriving at consistent positions, adding, "It's very helpful."
Still, Mr. Iveson said the caucus hasn't taken a common position on Uber and ride sharing. "The purpose of our discussion is to compare notes of the positions that we're taking and how best to support each other in coming to a consistent Canadian framework for protecting public safety, while enabling competition."
In a statement, Ian Black, general manager of Uber Canada, said the company applauded Edmonton for its leadership in adopting "progressive regulations."
But Mr. Iveson adopted a different tone. "Initially they were quite belligerent in entering Edmonton and suggesting they would not submit to any regulation whatsoever by the City of Edmonton," he said. "Thankfully, Uber became more reasonable and more collaborative."
Mr. Iveson said there may be no choice but to change. Without change, he said, the prospects ahead are grim.
"Unfortunately, the grey market will continue to be filled by so-called gypsy cabs or companies like Uber coming in and offering different services," he said. "You have an opportunity now to ensure public safety and create space for innovation rather than chase it into the shadows."