The Passenger Transportation Board’s latest round of application decisions included the approval of the first province-wide ride-hailing licence to a Richmond start-up that had once been in hot water.
Kabu is the first company to apply for ride-hail licences in every region of the province, and received permission to operate in every one of them, giving all British Columbians the prospect of access to the popular services.
“This morning, when we received the news from the PTB, there were a lot of tears that were shed,” said Kabu spokesperson Martin Van Den Hemel. “We have hundreds of drivers that are ready to join our company and when we’re ready to launch we believe we’re able to provide excellent service here in Richmond, Vancouver and the Vancouver area.”
Van Den Hemel believes the company can sort out insurance and other logistical requirements in the next couple of weeks before activating the app for service in the Lower Mainland.
The Richmond-based company admits it had been running up to 3,000 rides a day from 2016 to 2019 under GoKabu through social media platform WeChat, activity that got the company in trouble with the Ministry of Transportation. The City of Richmond opposed the company’s application to the PTB, saying GoKabu had “continuously and flagrantly facilitated unlawful ride hailing,” but in its decision the board says co-founders Austin Zhang and Billy Xiong were young and inexperienced, but admitted their mistakes and paid fines. The decision says since Kabu is a separate legal entity, they would not assess the application based on past conduct – adding that “a past violation does not in and of itself operate as a barrier to granting Kabu’s application.”
And, while the PTB isn’t enthusiastic about Kabu’s prior operations, the board acknowledged the company’s argument that the BC Liberal government of the day had promised to green-light ride-hailing in the province soon.
With the company’s plan to offer multilingual service through diverse drivers, the PTB also found that “Kabu has identified an under-served and growing market niche which focuses on the increasing number of immigrants, tourists, and international students coming to Canada.”
With a shortage of drivers eligible to work for ride-hailing companies due to the province’s Class 4 licence requirement, Kabu acknowledges it’s competing against big companies like Uber and Lyft to attract enough drivers to roll out service in Victoria, Kelowna, and the rest of the province.
“What we’ve committed to doing is providing subsidized health, dental, disability and illness coverage to them as well as free life insurance,” said Van Den Hemel, with a promise of at least $25 per hour in earnings.
“We’re [also] partnering with other Canadian companies to drive down the price of inspecting vehicles, operation and maintenance of vehicles as well as other cost-drivers for these drivers like their cell phone plans and their cellular phones themselves.”