Around the world, local lawmakers have struggled to fight the deep pockets and aggressive tactics of Silicon Valley-based giant Uber. But a group of Canadian mayors say that, by banding together, they're hoping they can gain the upper hand.
The mayors of some of Canada's biggest cities met Thursday, where they discussed the challenges of regulating Uber. And, as several of the cities move closer to legalizing Uber, some of them say they hope to draw on each other for advice – and, in some cases, clout – in their discussions with the company.
"Uber has a track record of kind of muscling its way into markets, and that's easy if they divide and conquer," Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said Thursday after a meeting of the Big City Mayors Caucus in Toronto.
"They have a lot of clout, obviously. They're very persuasive with the public and they have extremely deep pockets. So cities have learned – and you see this in the work we've done on transit, on housing – that our strength is in working together."
Uber, the ridesharing company known for skirting local regulations, has in the past year changed its approach in favour of working with lawmakers to create new rules tailor-made for its service.
Of the 30 Canadian municipalities in which Uber operates, the two closest to legalizing Uber – and creating new regulations for the company, distinct from taxi rules – are Edmonton and Toronto.
Earlier this week, an Edmonton city council meeting on the issue was interrupted by a protest of shirtless taxi workers. Next week, Toronto city council will vote on whether to move forward with creating new rules for Uber – a decision that is expected to set a precedent across the country.
Because of this, Mr. Iveson met privately with Toronto Mayor John Tory on Thursday. Mr. Iveson said the meeting was to share notes, but that he hoped the cities might eventually develop a united front and a common list of requests from Uber, including requirements on licences, driver screening and insurance.
Having Toronto, which is Uber's largest Canadian market, at the table could also help smaller cities avoid getting "unduly muscled around," Mr. Iveson said.
Mr. Tory's spokeswoman, Amanda Galbraith, said the pair had a "good conversation" on Uber, and that the Toronto mayor aims to continue to work collaboratively with mayors across the country. She noted, however, that Edmonton is slightly ahead in the process of regulating Uber, whereas Mr. Tory is still trying to persuade his council colleagues to vote in favour of it next week.
A co-ordinated approach would especially benefit smaller cities, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said, given they may not have the same resources to devote toward studying ride-sharing regulations.
"It's not just us, but cities like Saint John in New Brunswick are already turning their heads to, 'How do we deal with this if this comes in? How do we deal with Uber, car-sharing, any of these things?'" Mr. Savage said.
"Any discussions we could have with any of the mayors would be most helpful."
Despite the mayors' best efforts, they face a formidable opponent. Due in large part to its aggressive approach, Uber has expanded to more than 330 cities in just three years, and is valued at more than $50-billion.
Another challenge facing the mayors is that each city brings its own idiosyncratic issues and concerns, meaning a consensus could be difficult to achieve.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, whose city has imposed a moratorium on Uber, pointed to issues that he would be concerned about – like the use of hybrid vehicles – that other cities may not be as focused on.
"We all have unique circumstances with our taxi industries and provincial regulations," he said. "So it's hard to have a Canadawide solution here."