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Uber set to launch in Calgary amid taxi economy slump

500 drivers have signed up to begin picking up fares as part of the popular rideshare model

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Ready or not, here they come.

Many Calgarians who have spent months lusting over the online rideshare service have a reason to be Uber excited. Thursday morning the company will announce the launch of the long-awaited service that’s sure to make waves in the city.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, those looking to electronically hail a ride can boot up their apps and catch a lift with UberX.

Prices for the service are about 30 per cent cheaper than Calgary’s taxi service, the company claims,  and once up and running, Uber hopes to pick up rides in a five minute window.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity for Calgarians as well as regulators to try the product out as they consider making rideshare regulations in the city,” said Ramit Kar, general manager for Uber Alberta.

So far the company has seen about 500 drivers – including current cabbies – sign on to offer rides and expects that number to increase exponentially. In Edmonton, where the service has been running for about nine months, the number of drivers has increased tenfold.

“There’s a lot of pent up demand for both riders and drivers on the system,” said Kar. “There’s a lot of people that are looking for earning opportunities, and we definitely bring that to the table.”

Uber has talked to the mayor’s office about the impending launch. The company had been in discussions with administration about changing limo laws to allow for UberBLACK but up until this point have yet to discuss formal plans with the city to launch their UberX service.

“They have been expecting this, so we just wanted to make sure we’re at the table to ensure that smart regulations are put into place.”

A regulatory ‘grey area’:

Although the rideshare company doesn’t see its service as a taxi offering, city officials may not apply blinders to UberX operations.

“We are not a traditional taxi system as is regulated with the city,” said Kar.

In the past, Livery inspectors have charged “bandit cabs” for advertising services and completing rides without the proper taxi licence. If caught offering Uber rides, drivers - not the company - would be slapped with fines to the tune of $1,500 according to city bylaw.

The Taxi and Limousine Advisory Committee expects administration to follow through with current bylaw regulations.

Kar said Uber is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect its drivers.

“We will support our drivers in any ways necessary to make sure that they will continue driving on the platform,” he said. “We will either pay for their fines or support them with a lawyer.”

Insurance questions:

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has publicly stated in the past that Uber’s insurance isn’t sufficient to cover driver and passenger safety, but the company disputes claims stating if an accident happens – which they do – they’ve got it covered.

According to Uber every driver must carry their own personal car insurance on top of Uber’s contingent liability insurance which covers the ride up to $5 million.

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