New legislation introduced Monday intends to unlock the Winnipeg market for companies like Uber.
Bill 30, the Local Vehicles for Hire Act, dissolves the Manitoba Taxicab Board, transferring responsibility for regulation to local municipalities.
It proposes putting power in the hands of Manitoba municipalities to regulate all vehicles for hire, such as limousines and taxis, including those hired by way of a digital network or platform, like Lyft and Uber.
The bill is about "modernizing" Winnipeg's ride-for-hire industry, said Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, who introduced the legislation Monday.
"Winnipeg is very under-serviced," she said, with regard to taxi service.
In response to the bill's introduction, Uber Canada said it looks forward to working with Winnipeg city council and the province.
"We hope to bring ridesharing to Winnipeg soon so that Winnipeggers can benefit from another safe, reliable way to get around their city and a flexible income earning opportunity," said an Uber Canada spokesperson. "As Mayor Bowman stated in his recent state of the city address with respect to ridesharing services like Uber, 'Let's get it done.'"
One cab for every 1,500 Winnipeggers
Harbal Bedi, a longtime cab driver with Unicity Taxi, is not looking forward to more competition. He said there is already a glut of taxis in Winnipeg.
"We don't think we need more cars," Bedi said. "There is not enough business."
Manitoba's municipal affairs minister has a different perspective. She said Winnipeg has one cab for every 1,500 people.
"This is substantially lower than other jurisdictions that are similar to the city of Winnipeg," Clarke said.
The province has yet to discuss with Winnipeg what the transition will look like and what regulations city hall is considering, Clarke said. Under the new act, Winnipeg must create a bylaw regulating the vehicle-for-hire industry.
Any costs incurred by the city setting up a new regulatory system could be, in part or entirely, covered by revenue from issuing licence to drivers.
"There is the opportunity for costs to be covered by the licensing," she said.
Mayor Brian Bowman said he sees the legislation as an opportunity for the city, but could not say whether Winnipeg has the capacity to license and regulate taxis and ride-hailing services.
"We're going to have to look at the details to be able to better answer that," Bowman said at city hall, stating he has not had time to read the legislation. "Not only will our public service by reviewing it and advising, but also we expect we'll be working collaboratively with the province of Manitoba."
Bowman said he intends to inquire as to whether Winnipeg will receive the funding that used to flow to the provincial Taxicab Board. The mayor declined to characterize the provincial move as downloading services on the city.
Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who recently quit the Taxicab Board, said Winnipeg lacks the capacity to license and regulate taxis and said it will be impossible for the city to build this capacity by Feb. 28, 2018.
Taxicab Board chair Randy Williams, however, said he's confident Winnipeg has the capacity to handle the regulatory and licensing responsibilities.
"If the City of Brandon can do it, if the City of Steinbach can do it, the City of Winnipeg can do it," Williams said in a telephone interview.
Winnipeg's public service declined interview requests.
Taxi drivers want same set of rules
Michael Diamond, spokesperson for the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance — which represents Duffy's and Unicity — said his organization is not against more competition in the marketplace, so long as everyone operates under the same regulations.
"We just want to ensure both fairness, that all operators and players in the same industry offering the same service are held to the same set of rules," Diamond said.
It's too early to say what dissolving the Manitoba Taxicab Board will mean for drivers, he added.
Bill 30 was introduced by Clarke and seconded by Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen.
There are 652 licensed cabs, limousines and handi-vans in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Taxicab Board says.
Uber is currently available in more than 40 municipalities across Canada including Quebec City, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo Region, Niagara Region, Hamilton, London, Windsor and Kingston, according to the company.