Potential Uber driver peeved MPI move could block service in Winnipeg

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A Winnipegger who hoped to use and drive for Uber in Winnipeg is up in arms over a Manitoba Public Insurance plan that could block the ride-hailing app's arrival in the province.

MPI has introduced a new insurance use category for motorists who want to drive for Uber or Lyft that would add about $225 a year, or around 65 cents a day, to existing premiums for the average driver.

That's based on an average of $1,100 for basic insurance.

"The cost of insuring in that group would be up to 20 per cent higher," said Ward Keith, MPI's vice-president of business development. "Manitobans who want to do ridesharing services would move their vehicles into the new vehicle-for-hire insurance use."

On Monday, both Uber and Lyft said MPI's plan might stop their companies from coming to the province. 

Instead, they want a policy that covers drivers during ride-hailing activities, similar to what is available in provinces such as Alberta and Ontario, which have private auto insurers. 

Ontario's rules

In Ontario, Uber worked out a deal with Intact Insurance to provide drivers with insurance while they drive for the service.

Adam Mitchell, who runs Mitchell & Whale Insurance Brokers in Ontario, said the policy that Uber provides its drivers is the basic accident benefit, "so it's the lowest included legal limits.

"If you're a savvy person and trying to increase your limits for accident benefits, you can increase it or buy more through some other companies."

Mitchell said the arrangement has two main benefits for Uber: the company can roll the insurance into its app, so drivers don't have to worry about it, and making sure drivers are covered is easier.

"It becomes easier to manage because Uber doesn't miss a bill," he said.

"If you have individual drivers trying to place the insurance, from a regulatory standpoint, you might have trouble making sure that every one of those policy holders has an active policy in place, and hasn't defaulted on payment or had any other issue."

He said the tracking provided by the app has helped in sorting out insurance claims, as well.

"There has been some difficulty in unwinding claims, but it comes down to the proof of the app and the data as to whether you were driving on Uber's time and signed into the app and working — then the claim got paid under Intact," Mitchell said.

"If you were off-duty or not working or just driving your car like normal, it would pay out of a claim with your normal auto policy of whoever else you might be signed up with."

Legislation change

In July 2016, Ontario amended provincial legislation to deal with an existing gap and ensure drivers were covered by their regular insurance from the moment an app is turned on to when passengers exit the vehicle.

Ward Keith said MPI's plan is consistent with other jurisdictions, but legislation in Manitoba is different.

In Manitoba, insurance is offered at the vehicle level, and Keith says a legislative change would be needed to accommodate a different arrangement.

"We have offered to provide [ride-hailing companies] a blanket commercial policy," he said, but, "it's not possible to turn the basic compulsory insurance program on and off depending on what a vehicle is being used for."

Keith said discussions with Uber and Lyft are ongoing to resolve the issue.

'Terrible plan'

Michael Tyas, a Winnipegger who was hoping to drive for Uber, is incensed the ride-hailing service might not come to the province because of issues with MPI.

"I don't own a car but I thought, 'This is actually a way that, perhaps, I could afford to own a car,'" he said. "Uber and Lyft are thumbing their noses at this terrible plan, and I am too."

He's also unimpressed with MPI's proposal for "time bands" for drivers, which could reduce the 20 per cent increase to five per cent, if drivers only wanted to use Uber during certain time periods.

"One of the most convenient things about being a ridesharing driver is you can pick and choose when you want to work," he said.

"It's all about convenience, and it's about being able to respond to surges in demand — so when people are streaming out of MTS Centre, you're there. Or if it's 3 a.m. on New Year's Day, you're there."

'Some Johnny-come-lately'

Tyas thinks MPI's rules will kill any chance of Uber coming to Winnipeg.

"I'm already disappointed. Uber isn't coming. It would take a miracle for any good business to step into Manitoba with this mess and think they're going to be able to amass a great crew of drivers and to make a profit," he said.

"The kicker is that the province is now going to be putting up taxi prices in anticipation of all the ridesharing.… I honestly don't think they thought this through."

However, the Winnipeg Community Taxi Coalition is happy about the decision.

"This validates everything we've been saying about safety since Day 1," said coalition spokesperson Scott McFadyen.

But, he said, the premium is lower than what taxi drivers were hoping ride-hailing app drivers would have to pay.

"We're paying $10,500 per year in terms of rates, so it is blatantly unfair that someone can come along — some Johnny-come-lately — come along and enter our marketplace and pay far less."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a statement Tuesday that he's hopeful MPI and ride-hailing companies will be able to find a solution, adding that Winnipeggers want the service.