By Chris Vandenbreekel
The debate around ride-sharing services came to Saskatoon Tuesday, as the union representing taxi drivers descended on city hall ahead of a discussion over rules for services like Uber, Lyft or TappCar.
About 20 people gathered for the United Steelworkers rally at City Hall Square to demonstrate taxi drivers’ concerns over the possible introduction of companies like Uber and Lyft to the province.
“The only reason we are standing for two hours, losing our income on the road, is to tell the city the direction (they) are going will ruin our business,” taxi driver Hassan Abbas said.
The 17-year veteran of the industry added most drivers have a low monthly income to begin with, despite regularly working 12-hour shifts every day of the week.
He said having Saskatoon streets flooded with part-time ride-share drivers would destroy his livelihood.
“The main source of income for Uber drivers is not Uber,” he said.
“They’re not making a primary income, whereas a taxi driver spending 13 hours on the road is trying to make a living.”
Abbas said like many other drivers, he had taken a line of credit against his home to purchase a taxi plate — an item that sells for approximately $250,000 in Saskatoon, according to advocates.
He said unless city council approves rules limiting the introduction of ride-sharing services, his purchase will be worth nothing.
“I would have nowhere to go,” he said.
Abbas joined several of his colleagues in council chambers throughout the afternoon as councillors on the transportation committee discussed a Saskatchewan Taxi Cab Association (STCA) proposal to allow “flex fleet” cab drivers to increase the number of taxis available at peak times.
STCA spokeswoman Shondra Boire said the part-time fleet would use private vehicles with window decals to identify their cab company, and the cars would only be called upon when the full-time taxis couldn’t keep up with demand.
“We realize we can’t service the people properly with the number of cars we have,” she said.
“Our hands are currently tied given the number of taxi licences the city gives out.”
Boire added the flex-fleet cars would have security cameras, and drivers would be subject to the same criminal background checks as other taxi operators.
City administration recommended the councillors direct staff to develop a comprehensive ride-for-hire bylaw, analyze ways to make the taxi fare system more affordable or to approve the drafting of the part-time flex fleet taxi licensing system.
Another option was to develop an independent ride-sharing bylaw that would regulate companies like Uber in the interim, until more comprehensive laws involving taxis could be drafted.
However, councillors on the committee opted to pass along recommendations to gather more research on how bylaws could maintain a “level playing field” between taxis and ride-sharing services.
If city council approves the recommendation at its Dec. 18 meeting, administration would report its findings back sometime in 2018.
Ward 6 Coun. Cynthia Block said people in Saskatoon need a more efficient, affordable option.
“I think there’s a very good chance we can find a way to develop a system that’s good for everyone,” she said.
“It won’t be the same, but it could be good for everyone.”
After several taxi managers and drivers addressed the committee to implore them to either restrict or ban companies like Uber, Ward 5 coun. Randy Donauer told them it would be a losing battle.
“We could maybe delay them by a year or two, but they’re coming,” he said, noting he won’t vote in favour of bylaws allowing ride-sharing until rules putting taxis on the same level are also in place.