Brandon open to ride-hailing services like Uber, mayor says

Brandon open to ride-hailing services like Uber, mayor says

The mayor of Brandon says he's open to the idea of riding-hailing services like Uber operating in the Wheat City, but new regulations have to be mindful of the city's already robust vehicle-for-hire industry.  

"We're always interested in looking at new things," Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest told CBC News. "Council will want to balance out the convenience ... while at the same time taking into account the safety of our citizens and the investment and consideration of the current industry." 

New legislation introduced Monday by the Manitoba government would dissolve the Manitoba Taxicab Board, and give Manitoba municipalities the power to regulate all vehicles for hire, including limousines, taxis, and ride-booking services like Lyft and Uber.

Unlike Winnipeg, where taxis are regulated by the taxicab board, Brandon's taxis are already regulated by a city bylaw. 

But the legislation does open the door for services like Uber across Manitoba, including in Brandon. Chrest said the idea of services like Lyft and Uber entering the Brandon market hasn't been brought to the council or committee table yet, but he believes it's only a matter of time until it does. 

"We're mobilizing and want to gather up all of the current regulations so we can start to prepare to work on this," he said.

He said there was no prior consultation between the province and cities about the new legislation, or indication that regulations around ride-hailing services would fall to municipalities.

City staff will now look at Brandon's current taxi bylaw, the number of valid taxi licenses and statistics before recommending changes.

"Really this sort of did come out of the blue," Chrest said. 

Uber could 'kill' Brandon business: taxi owner

But the thought of such services being allowed to operate in Brandon isn't sitting well with the owner of at least one Brandon taxi company.

"This will have a direct affect in our daily income or monthly income," said Dev Lallawooa, who has owned Rainbow Taxi for three years. "It will have a huge impact."

Lallawooa said it's already hard to make money in the city as it is. He said slow business in January forced him to take three of his seven cars off of the road.

"Here I am working 12 hours a day waiting for people to call me ... If Uber is able to operate in Brandon that will kill the taxi business," he said.

Lallawooa said there are enormous costs with operating a taxi business, from permits and insurance to the inspections his vehicles have to undergo.

"I worried about the taxi [industry] ... Any moment the taxi business can go down. Especially when Uber comes in here, it will go down straight," Lallawooa said. 

City taxi industry 'robust': Chrest 

But Chrest said Brandon already has a robust taxi service, which has to be taken into consideration. 

"We certainly have a significant number of licenses, a significant number of people that are earning their livelihood from the industry," who are "doing a good job of satisfying the demand in Brandon," he said.

"We want to me mindful of all of those people who are earning their livelihood and have made investments in this," Chrest said. "[But] we do understand that the travelling public are interested in ride-sharing serivces." 

Chrest believes Brandon city council will be eager to find a solution that works for everyone if and when the issue of services like Uber does come to the council table.

Ride-hailing will also be on the agenda of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities cities caucus when it next meets in April, Chrest said.

Meanwhile, Lallawooa said it would be more financially viable for him to close up shop and instead drive for Uber, if the company is allowed to operate in Brandon.

"Either way, if Uber is operating, I'm in loss," he said.