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Canada Uber can boost incomes, ease gridlock, says former Obama adviser

One week ahead of Toronto city hall’s decision, Uber’s chief adviser, David Plouffe, visited the city to encourage council to vote in favour of new Uber rules.

Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press

Uber can help Canadians earn extra income and address urban gridlock, the controversial ride-hailing service's chief adviser said during a swing across the country on Thursday.

David Plouffe said UberX provides flexible employment for retirees, students and workers looking for ways to top up their incomes when they need some extra money.

"Every city has a huge problem with stagnant wages and every city is facing mobility challenges," he said during a speech to the Montreal Board of Trade.

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The manager of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign made his pitch after visiting Toronto and before appearing in Vancouver.

Uber has raised the ire of the taxi industry, which says its business has dropped with the arrival of the unlicensed and lower-priced competitor.

Plouffe said Uber isn't competing for a "stagnant small taxi pie," but is attempting to grow a market that is an alternative to private cars and public transit.

"Every place ride-sharing has prospered, the market grows," he said.

Plouffe said UberX and its UberPool car-pooling service make it practical for people to give up their cars, which can ease traffic congestion and eventually reduce the need for costly expenditures to upgrade transit and roads.

In the United States, eight per cent of Uber riders choose not to buy a vehicle, he said, which is in line with the thinking of millennials.

UberX – which allows drivers to use their own vehicles to pick up fare-paying passengers – operates in some 25 municipalities across Canada.

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Montreal is an under-developed Uber market with 3,000 drivers, about half of whom drive for less than 10 hours a week, Plouffe said. There are 16,000 Uber drivers in Toronto, but nearly three times as many in Los Angeles and other large global cities.

As in many cities, Uber has received a cool welcome in Quebec. Several hundred cabbies protested in Montreal and Quebec City a month ago urging the province to outlaw the service.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has said he's open to legalizing the service, but his transportation minister and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre have called it illegal.

A spokesman for the taxi industry said it isn't willing to let a parallel industry to take money from cabbies who have paid hefty permit fees.

"If the Quebec government decides to go and legislate Uber they're going to need to compensate the industry," said Benoit Jugand of the union representing about 5,000 taxi drivers in the province.

"It's either the same level playing field for everybody or else you create two kinds of industry and that will not work, that's for sure."

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Plouffe said Uber isn't opposed to being regulated but said many different ways have been adopted around the world that preserve core elements of the service.

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