'Horrible things happen': Taxi industry demands Uber, Lyft install shields to thwart 'beheading'

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Uber and Lyft drivers will face dangerous situations unless they are made to install safety shields in their vehicles, says a spokesman for Winnipeg's taxi industry.

"Horrible things have happened in this city," Scott McFadyen said, noting Pritam Deol, a cabbie murdered in 2001, was stabbed 70 times in the face.

"Shields are needed. The proof is in the pudding in terms of the 100 per cent reduction in murders [since shields were made mandatory]."

Protective barriers will also help avoid skyrocketing rates for all auto insurance payers, McFadyen said, emphasizing his point with an alarming scenario.

"The first time an Uber passenger is beheaded, you know, maimed — these things do happen, horrible things do happen — that is going to have a devastating impact on insurance rates."

McFadyen, spokesman for the Winnipeg Community Taxi Coalition, made the comments Wednesday after Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle — the executive policy committee — approved new regulations governing taxis and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The regulations must now go to council for a vote on Dec. 13.

The taxi industry has been fighting the city's moves to allow ride-booking services to operate in Winnipeg ever since Bill 30, the Local Vehicles for Hire Act, dissolved the Manitoba Taxicab Board in March.

That put regulatory power in the hands of Manitoba municipalities for all vehicles for hire, such as limousines and taxis, including those hired by way of a digital network or platform, like Lyft and Uber.

"We know, based on our experience in dealing with the mayor's office, that they're not our friends. They're not really working in our favour," McFadyen said on Wednesday.

"Today, we had to put our elbows up a little bit, and that's just what we do."

Representatives from Uber and Lyft, both of which are based in San Francisco, attended Wednesday's vote and intend to be back on Dec. 13. Both have said their services will launch March 1 — the earliest date possible if the bylaw is passed.

"We're very excited ... and we continue to look forward to working with the mayor and the council as we move forward next week," said Prashanthi Raman, Lyft's central region public policy director.

"We are going to be here as soon as we absolutely can. Ideally, that would be as soon as the law is effective, but we do have to make sure our processes are in place to ensure that happens."

Uber currently operates in 16 Canadian cities while Lyft isn't in any, but is expected to be up and running in Toronto before the end of the year.

​Winnipeg's rules show near uniformity with what other Canadian municipalities are doing.

When it comes to safety, other Canadian cities have determined the app-driven service works well, said Uber Canada public policy manager Chris Schafer.

Location-sharing data from the ride-hailing app, the fact that payments are made ahead of time through the app, and the ability for drivers and passengers to rate each other keep both parties safe, he said.

Schafer applauded EPC's decision to support the service.

"We're quite happy. It's a bylaw that embraces innovation and choice for consumers here in Winnipeg and it's based on experiences learned in bylaws across Canada," he said.

"It's a good day for choice in ground transportation for Winnipeggers."

While it seems like the bylaw is rolling towards approval, McFadyen said there's still time for the wheels to come off. 

"We're pleased that we were able to get our story out there and I think we heard from a number of members of the mayor's inner circle that they are going to seriously look at it over the next week," he said.

"The bylaw is not a done deal."