News / Calgary

Calgary passes Uber-enabling bylaw, releases 222 taxi plates

The rideshare giant has promised an "early December" launch in Calgary

Calgary city council passed amendments to the city's livery bylaw Monday, paving the way for rideshare companies like Uber.

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Calgary city council passed amendments to the city's livery bylaw Monday, paving the way for rideshare companies like Uber.

Uber is now revving their engines after a bylaw review makes their business model feasible in Calgary.

On Monday, councillors approved a livery bylaw tweak (in the form of a one-year pilot) that would give Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) another licensing fee option.

These changes are what Uber has indicated would bring their services back to city streets after they left in February.  

The news brings a mix of anger and relief for some taxi drivers and brokerages, who have been advocating the city release all remaining plates in the wings to help the industry "compete with Uber."

Associated Cab drivers wearing their stickers waited to hear what council would decide on bylaw changes that could bring Uber back to Calgary.

Helen Pike/ Metro

Associated Cab drivers wearing their stickers waited to hear what council would decide on bylaw changes that could bring Uber back to Calgary.

Associated Cab President Roger Richard said Uber was able to do business back in February, and "no other TNC wanted these changes."

"It's all about Uber making more money," said Richard. "If one side is open, the other side should be the same...if they won't regulate the number of TNCs, they shouldn't regulate the number of taxis."

Roger Richard, Associated Cab President.

Helen Pike/ Metro

Roger Richard, Associated Cab President.

These companies still hold that because Uber operated illegally in Calgary, they shouldn't be granted "special privileges" in any new fee proposals, and should have been able to run under the city's initial rules. And some drivers and brokerages even allege a "backroom deal" between the company and mayor's office.

"Whatever," said mayor Naheed Nenshi when asked about allegations of a deal. "We did what was right for Calgarians today."

Nenshi noted that adding more plates to the road was a mistake, but his message directly to drivers was that if they aren't part of the lucky few who get plates from the next lottery, they have new options.

"We're pleased city council has voted to update Calgary's ridesharing bylaw to provide needed flexibility for local drivers," said Uber spokesman Jean Christophe de le Rue. "As we've said, these changes will allow us to offer service to riders and drivers by early December."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Helen Pike/ Metro

Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Uber will share their official launch date soon.

According to the city, an application to lift the existing injunction against Uber drivers still needs to be made before they can legally hit the streets.  

The rules:

The proposed changes mean TNCs would foot the licensing bill, instead of administration's initial law, which put the onus on drivers. So, depending on the number of drivers, there’s a range of annual fees, a $15 per driver fee and a $0.20 per trip fee to round out administrative costs.

TNCs must pay a sum equal to the original $220 per driver fee model, but now have the choice between two different fee options.

The taxi plate debate and driver income:

Nenshi did stand up to urge council to hold all taxi plates waiting in the wings – he said adding cabs would only pad broker's pockets, and not improve driver livelihood.

"Releasing those new plates does one thing, and one thing only," said Nenshi. "It provides $3.5 million in straight up income to the two or three brokerages, and that's it."

Another revalation, which drivers have been privately vocal to Metro about, is the fact that February's bylaw has been hard on them. Along with amendments that legalized TNC operations, the bylaw also allowed cab companies to decide their own fare rates – which, in turn, gave consumers a 15 to 20 per cent discount on fares – but didn't require the brokers to lower their stand rents.

"I will be very, very interested to see what happens to stand rents," said Nenshi. "If they don't go down as a result of demand from new entrants, then I will be asking administration if we should start regulating those rents."

According to Nenshi, these rates can be more than $300 every week. He noted when the companies lowered their rates, he didn't see a stand rent rate decrease.

Checker did drop their stand rates, but Associated has not.

"The last two stand rent increases, we didn't raise our stand rent either," said Associated Cab general manager Jeff Garland. "We have fixed costs, if you measure our profitability at the end of the year, compared to any other business, you'll find our profit margin is in the one percentile compared to most other businesses...it's not a cash cow by any means."

Jeff Garland.

Helen Pike/ Metro

Jeff Garland.

In the end, council opted to release the 222 plates, which cab companies highlighted as one of the few ways to help them compete once Uber is in the market.

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