Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum dug in against ride hailing services operating in his city on Monday, saying there would be no more “grace periods,” and confirmed 18 warnings had been issued over the weekend to Uber drivers who operated in the city without a business licence.
“I support ride hailing,” McCallum said at a news conference, in what appeared to be a switch from his long-established position. But he reiterated, “it has to be on a level playing field with the taxi industry.”
McCallum said Uber drivers who continue to pick up in Surrey could expect to start receiving $500 fines from bylaw officers, suggesting that like other businesses that operate illegally, they could be “shut down.” He did not elaborate.
Over the weekend, Surrey bylaw officers handed out warning tickets to drivers like Carlos Medina, who thought he was picking up a passenger Sunday afternoon outside the Safeway supermarket near Surrey City Hall.
Medina said a woman outside the store asked if he was an Uber driver, and he answered yes. Then two Surrey bylaw officers approached him and wrote him a ticket for operating without a business licence.
Medina, who quit his job to become a full time Uber driver, told CTV News he felt like he’d been lured and harassed.
“They’re using the app just to call someone over and corner them,” he said.
While he admitted he was concerned by the encounter, Medina insisted he had done nothing wrong and said he would keep picking up passengers in Surrey because he believed he was protected by both provincial laws and his company.
In a statement, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure told CTV News in part that while “Municipalities have the ability to set requirements for business licences for ride hail operators…our legislation is clear: no municipality has the authority to block the operation of ride hailing services.”
The ministry did not clarify if it was taking any steps in response to Surrey issuing warning tickets and the threat of further fines.
“It is highly unfortunate that the mayor is threatening drivers with fines that have no legal basis,” Uber said in a statement released on Monday evening. “The Uber app will continue to be available to the residents and visitors of Surrey within our service area, and we will be preparing legal action to defend the right to access Uber’s apps.”
McCallum said the city had no plans to take legal action against Uber and said the enforcement was being taken with the well-being of Surrey citizens, including the taxi industry, in mind.
Chief among his concerns is the lack of a cap on ride hailing vehicles, a decision made by the independent Passenger Transportation Board for all ride hailing services.
The mayor also pointed to other cities in Metro Vancouver that have issued business licences as a justification that Uber should not operate in his city without something comparable.
“But with respect, Mr. Mayor, other cities are not ticketing and threatening to run Uber out of town, and you are,” CTV News’ David Molko said to McCallum.
“No, we’re not,” McCallum responded.
Surrey’s mayor also indicated that he was open to a “regional” business licence solution that spans municipalities. The TransLink Mayors Council is currently reviewing a report that suggests one could be put into practice as soon as late March or early April.
It is unclear if such a licence would address McCallum’s concerns which include, beyond a cap on ride hailing vehicles, accessibility, vehicle age, and insurance, among others, he said.
It is also unclear if Surrey might impose its own business licence, in addition.
Back at the supermarket parking lot across from city hall, Carlos Medina activated his Uber app. Within a minute, four different calls for pickups came from four different Surrey neighbourhoods.
“Listen to (the people of Surrey),” Medina said when asked about his message for McCallum. “They want this service. It’s not just up to you.”