News / Edmonton

City warns it will fine drivers as rideshare app Uber launches in Edmonton

Rideshare app Uber has launched its UberX service in Edmonton with free service for a limited time, but the city is warning there will be consequences.

The company announced a partnership with Goodwill for a clothing drive earlier this week, but in a surprise move the service also launched fully on Thursday with former mayor Bill Smith taking the first ride.

“We’re really excited to deliver what people have been asking for,” said Jeff Weshler, the company’s general manager of regional expansion.

Uber hasn’t specified exactly how long their service will be free, but Weshler said it would be that way at least through the coming weekend. It also applies only to fares of less than $30.

UberX allows everyday drivers to sign up with the company’s service and pick up passengers. The company has other products that use limousines and taxis, but this service allows anyone who passes the company’s screening to use their vehicle.

Vehicle for Hire Director Garry Dziwenka said the city would treat Uber just as they would any unlicensed cabs.

“We consider Uber to be a bandit taxi until they get licensed,” he said. “If Uber starts taking fares we will enforce the same rules as we do for other bandit taxis that operate illegally in Edmonton.”

He said that could include fines to individual drivers of $1,400 and a possible injunction preventing the company from operating in the city.

Balraj Manhas, president of the United Cabbies Association, said it’s disappointing the city didn’t step in before the service launched.

“They should have done something by now, some kind of stop order,” he said.

He said the service is a real concern for local taxi drivers, who are worried they won’t be able to compete.

“The taxi industry has already been damaged and will be further damaged by this by this kind of service. It’s very hard to compete with that kind of rich company,” he said.

Weshler said he believes a lengthy legal fight with the city is against everyone’s interests.

“Ultimately, there’s better ways for everyone to spend our time and resources,” he said.

He said the city would be made aware of the launch and he hopes to continue discussions with them.

“The best solution is one where we work collaboratively and find a way to ensure that Uber has a permanent home in Edmonton and rideshare has a home in Edmonton,” he said.

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