Protests force Edmonton Uber debate behind closed doors
“It’s a public chamber as long as people are behaving in a responsible way,” says Iveson.
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Taxi drivers protesting Uber forced city councillors to lock them out and move closer to regulating the rideshare company without them in the chamber.
More than one hundred drivers shouted “Shame, shame, shame,” at councillors after council defeated a motion that would have deferred debate on the rideshare bylaw until after the byelection in Ward 12, which is currently underway.
When the postponement, proposed by Coun. Mike Nickel was defeated in a split vote, some taxi drivers in the council chamber stood up and began yelling at councillors. Some refused to leave and police cleared the room after council declared a recess.
When council resumed debate on the proposed bylaw, the public was kept out — with police officers outside the front door refusing people entry.
Mayor Don Iveson said he was disappointed but the council meeting had to carry on.
“It’s a public chamber as long as people are behaving in a responsible way,” he said.
Driver Manjinder Punia said cabbies were frustrated because so much was at stake.
“The taxi industry, the regulated industry can not compete with Uber,” he said. “Within six months to a year the industry will be done.”
Punia said without the regulated industry people would be left at the mercy of Uber, which would not provide the same consistent level of service.
Councillors did settle the issue of minimum fares, passing a change to the proposed bylaw after rejecting several other suggestions.
The change will require both taxi and Uber drivers to charge no less than $3.25 per trip.
Councillors rejected several motions that would have seen Uber drivers pay the same fees as taxis, or a minimum equivalent to 30 per cent of the taxi fare.
Coun. Michael Oshry pushed the 30-per-cent option as a beginning that council could revisit.
“If 30 per cent is too low we can come back to us and we can adjust it,” he said.
But Oshry wanted something to make sure predatory pricing didn’t force cab drivers out of the business.
“We need to ensure there is some level of protection for them.”
Iveson said the $3.25 figure would act as a placeholder as well and council could revisit the issue in the future.
“It sends a clear signal that you can’t give it away for free.”
Council is set to discuss possible maximum fares on Wednesday.
In a statement, Uber said the could live with the proposed $3.25 per trip figure, but would leave Edmonton if council went further.
“While City Council’s move today to establish fare minimums would allow us to continue to operate in Edmonton, additional attempts to set maximum or minimum rates would be unworkable,” said spokesman Xavier Van Chau, in a statement.