Ride-hailing companies in B.C. will be able to pick up in larger areas than taxis, charge similar minimum fares, and can have as many cars on the road to start, according to new rules revealed by the Passenger Transportation Board.
Board chair Catharine Read announced the regulations in a teleconference Monday, revealing there will be no limit on fleet size for companies such as Uber and Lyft. Read spoke about the issues ride-hailing companies will face, including a possible shortage of drivers due to the province’s insistence on Class 4 commercial licences. She said that could be revisited in the future.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the unlimited nature of licences is something the province will be watching.
"They indicated there will be no cap on licences on the ride-hailing industry. That is something that does concern us," Farnworth told CTV News.
Minimum rates for ride-sharing vehicles will be in line with taxi flag rates. The board says in Metro Vancouver the range is between $3.25 and $3.95. Companies won’t be able to discount that base rate in any way, and there will be no maximum price.
"We are going to allow (companies) to increase price because that expands supply of drivers to meet passenger demand at peak time,” Read said during a news conference.
She added all rates will be confirmed up front before a passenger even confirms the ride. If it’s not acceptable, the traveler can find a different way to get around.
The PTB established five zones for rideshare companies – each one much larger than what cabs contend with.
Taxi operators furious with the new ridesharing regime gathered en masse Monday and voiced a number of concerns. They said congestion will increase, families supported by the taxi industry will be hurt, and insisted the rules are not fair.
“Cheaper rates, cheaper insurance, unlimited vehicles, there's no level playing field there,” said Carolyn Bauer of the Vancouver Taxi Association.
Other operators were asked about whether taxi boundaries should change to be in line with ridesharing. At the media availability Monday, no one suggested it should, claiming it would lead to an abundance of cabs in Vancouver.
Yet, the PTB board chair acknowledged this was an issue with some cabbies.
“Especially the taxi companies based out of Surrey and the suburbs in Metro Vancouver, they're not happy with it because they're restricted to their existing boundaries,” Read added.
Yet changing taxi boundaries is far from an easy fix, she said, because there was no clear consensus amongst those in the industry.
The province has previously stated all regulations would be in effect by mid-September and the PTB would start accepting applications in early September. The board said Monday applications could take between six and eight weeks to process, because there are certain regulatory processes that need to be followed. If a company applied as soon as it could, the earliest it could be up and running is likely mid-October.
Lyft has previously said it is coming to Metro Vancouver due to an anticipated shortage of drivers. The company pointed out B.C. is the only jurisdiction that doesn’t allow the more common Class 5 licences.
The legislative committee looking at ride-hailing recommended Class 5 licences but the province insists the commercial licences will make passengers safer, although it’s unclear exactly how.
The NDP government had campaigned on bringing in ride-hailing by the end of 2017. The previous Liberal government also failed to bring in the service. Some observers say that’s partly due to a strong taxi lobby, but also a significant voter base in Surrey where bringing in ride-hailing could be viewed negatively.