Uber in B.C.? Ride-hailing companies, advocates worried regulations too restrictive

Imagine working for a cab company, ending your shift late and not and then not being able to get a taxi to stop and take you home.

Christiana Virtue said that’s exactly what happened to her.

“I was off at three o’clock in the morning waiting for a cab and the cab drove past me multiple times,” she told CTV News.

She blamed the early morning hours and the location. The Victoria-area resident estimated over the past year, she’s probably had a cab not pick her up for various reasons about 10 or 15 times.

Like others, Virtue likes the idea of having the option to ride-share. It’s a reality that’s a step closer, as the province unveiled regulations Monday that companies will need to abide by. Yet something that wasn’t addressed in those new rules is what advocates say may be the biggest roadblock ahead.

“We are very concerned around the Class 4 licensing that will reduce the amount of the supply on the road, which is ultimately the problem and the challenge that we’ve been experiencing for so many years here in B.C.,” said Lyft Canada’s Managing Director, Aaron Zifkin.

Lyft insists the requirement for the commercial Class 4 licence and not the standard Class 5 most people have won’t mean more vehicles on the road.

B.C. Ridesharing Coalition’s Ian Tostenson told CTV the Class 4 requirement makes it easier for those already driving taxis?to make the switch — which doesn’t increase supply. He’s also worried the requirement will be too cumbersome and costly for moms and students who, in other jurisdictions, have signed up to drive.

“It could cost someone upwards of $1,000 and several months to get it and we’re concerned it’s the only place in North America, practically, that people are required to get it,” Tostenson added.

In a teleconference speaking on behalf of Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, who is ill, North Vancouver MLA Bowinn Ma said the Class 4 requirement was “non-negotiable.” Ma chaired an all-party legislature committee that recommended the standard Class 5 license.

Ma also noted the Passenger Transportation Board will start accepting ride-hailing applications as of Sept. 3 in order to have the service in place this fall. She added she believed the government had struck the right balance in terms of the existing taxi industry, passenger safety and choice.

Other regulations include requiring drivers to have criminal and driver record checks. Those operating illegal services could be fined up to $100,000 a day. A 30-cent “per-trip” fee is also being added to trips in non-accessible vehicles to help fund programs to increase accessibility. All companies will be charged an annual fee of $5,000 a year – an amount government officials said was “conservative” when compared to other jurisdictions.

The regulations announced today will come into force on Sept. 16, which means ride-hailing is a go once the PTB approves applications.

PTB will need to consider appropriate operating areas, fleet sizes, and rates. Consultations with ride-sharing companies and the taxi industry are expected to start Tuesday.

In a statement, Uber says it will review the information and “evaluate how they may impact our ability to provide British Columbians with the same ride-sharing experience they already enjoy in cities across North America…”

ICBC will offer a blanket, per kilometer insurance product that will only apply when a driver is offering the service. The rates will be detailed in an application expected July 19 and the BC Utilities Commission has been given until Aug. 8 to approve the new rates. In a technical briefing, staff said taxi insurance rates would be used as a benchmark to determine rates.

The regulations released today come after a number of studies and consultations into the issue of ride-hailing.

Earlier this year, a legislature committee issued recommendations including there be no boundaries or limits on how many ride-hailing vehicles are allowed on the road. The committee also suggested the minimum cost for ride-hailing needs to be more than the cost of taking transit.

That resulted in blowback from ride-sharing companies and organizations like MADD who argue there’s no evidence to support the claim Class 4 licenses lead to increased safety. Several other Canadian provinces allow drivers to use class 5 licenses.

Parties have fielded the issue as a political hot potato for years. The Liberals, in power for 16 years failed to introduce regulations and the NDP broke a promise to bring in ride sharing by the end of 2017. Observers and critics accuse politicians to bowing to the taxi lobby and refusing to alienate voters in key battlegrounds like Surrey.

An overview of the regulations provided by the government follows. Viewing this on our mobile beta site? Tap here for a compatible version.

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