Opinion: The city needs to get out of the way of business

The Uber business model is one of several disruptive technologies taking the 21st century by storm, by utilizing technology to quickly and easily create economic opportunities between labour and consumers.

Just like how Skip the Dishes is not a restaurant, Uber is not a taxi company. Both are technology companies utilizing their software to fill a continually growing demand between those looking for work and those looking for convenient service.

There is significant data showing that ride sharing has significantly boosted sales in the restaurant and bar industry and reduced instances of drinking and driving — so much that it is heavily endorsed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The Vehicle for Hire Bylaw was presented to council at its Jan. 4 meeting. Prepared by the city’s inspection and licensing department, the report took a close look at how city administration thought the licensing and regulations for ride sharing should work.

Uber was quick to reply that the high licensing costs, frequent vehicle inspections and annual quality compliance inspections are “not sustainable for the ride-sharing business model.”

It has been noted by both council and Uber that Red Deer’s proposed requirements are more onerous and more costly than other mid-sized Alberta municipalities.

At a chamber luncheon in September, city manager Allan Seabrooke addressed a room of business people with strong messaging, that under his leadership, the City of Red Deer would focus on business friendliness, “looking at our own house and looking at our own bylaws and making sure what we’re doing and the processes that we have in place are business friendly, because we are open for business in Red Deer.”

In her presentation to council, the city’s inspection and licensing manager spoke of the possibility of creating numerous sets of rules based on driving frequency, different fee rates, and vehicle inspections.

All options that would undoubtedly result in an incredibly complicated piece of legislation.

The bylaw, as it was proposed, speaks to the larger issue of complicated and costly overregulation that frequently frustrates local businesses and entrepreneurs in our city.

Government certainly has a role to play in providing a legal framework that maintains a standard of quality and safety, but it must be balanced to facilitate and allow for free-market-based business decisions, as well as new technologies and trends to be adopted in our city.

It was a positive development when the city released its economic leader document that included a red-tape reduction strategy.

Following conversations with city staff, I am confident that it will be a successful and continual process to improve business friendliness in the city.

However, it’s difficult to be overly optimistic that business friendliness will improve when, and if, our city sees fit to add new burdensome regulations such as the proposed Vehicle for Hire Bylaw.

For the City of Red Deer to truly claim that it is “open for business,” it will require a consistent and demonstrable shift by those responsible for the interpretation and enforcement of legislation to focus on how projects can move forward, instead of why they cannot.

It remains a common occurrence to hear about projects in our city thwarted by overzealous planning and development officers.

Older bylaws and regulations must be revised or simply tossed out, and new ones must adhere to the principles of simplicity, and consistently be business friendly in order to avoid a one-step-forward, two-steps-back scenario.

For cities like ours to get ahead, legislation must positively embrace new and disruptive technologies such as Uber.

It’s clear they are here to stay and a lynchpin of a modern economy.

Reg Warkentin is policy and advocacy manager for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce.

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