Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — By the end of this year, the road may be paved for ride-sharing services, such as Uber, to operate legally within the province. On March 20, the provincial government introduced Bill 30, which will deregulate the industry and open the door for new players. In essence, the bill will dissolve the Manitoba Taxicab Board and move responsibility for regulation of vehicles for hire to municipal governments.
The bill, not surprisingly, it’s being opposed by the City of Winnipeg’s existing taxicab owners and operators, many of whom have made significant investments in vehicles and licensing. Bill 30 explicitly states that there will be no compensation or damages paid to those negatively impacted. This isn’t the first time this battle has been fought.
In 2010, Uber launched with a revolutionary idea; passengers input their credit card information into an app and at the push of a button, request a ride. GPS coordinates then tell the driver, who may or may not drive full time and arrives in their own car, where to go. The service also allows drivers and passengers to rate one another. It also frequently employs demand-based fares, which means that fares in peak travel times are higher. With a business model that takes aim at a strongly protected industry, right from the start the company has been defending itself against transportation authorities, municipal governments and taxi cab boards determined to shut it down.
It’s easy to see why riders like the service, more cars make it easier to find a ride, especially during peak times. With charges of taxi drivers acting in unfair or illegal ways towards passengers, the ability to hold bad drivers to account is also appealing.
On the surface though, the service also offers something of value to drivers, both the regular and occasional ones. Many drivers worry about fare skippers and the ability to receive a guaranteed fare and to encourage good rider behaviour through rating is an advantage.
Despite these benefits, as the service has spread from one market to another, the realities have become apparent. There have been complaints of arbitrary treatment towards drivers and falling pay. As the service becomes established in each new market, the novelty wears off for the occasional drivers and the bulk of the drivers tend to be the same people who used to drive cabs. However, they are now independent contractors, responsible for purchasing and maintaining their cars and losing many of the benefits associated with work as an employee.
Under the new Manitoba bill, drivers for ride-sharing services would have to be licensed and carry proper commercial vehicle insurance. Herein lies part of the problem with giving Uber the green light— it exists to blow up existing models and has a history of circumventing regulations. While all Uber vehicles must pass a vehicle inspection, they cannot have a taxi paint job. The company hopes its cars will move unseen, under the radar. Even more blatantly, the company has made use of technology to circumvent the authorities in areas where the service has been banned. For a company that has made a practice of pushing back against laws and which can easily operate in grey areas, I don’t see a swift embrace of rules and regulations, especially when it will result in higher costs.
This lack of compliance is the biggest problem I have with ride-sharing services. The premise is fantastic, especially in rural communities where there isn’t enough demand for a full-time taxi service. It’s a great way of easily connecting people looking for rides with those looking to make a few extra bucks in their down time. But while “ride share” may conjure images of your friend catching a ride with you to Brandon, this is a commercial service in every way. The necessary insurance and safety requirements must be in place for everyone’s safety and fairness within the industry.
The political will exists to open the door to ride-sharing services, which means that in all likelihood, they are coming to Manitoba. It will be up to riders to use their spending power to dictate what they expect from service providers.