B.C. could be one step closer to having ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft operating legally in the province after the BC Green Party promised to introduce new legislation this fall.
Party leader Andrew Weaver told reporters he hopes his third bill on the subject will become law, even though it will need the support of one of the legislature’s major parties to pass.
“The government cannot stick its head in the sand when it comes to new technology,” Weaver said in a statement Monday.
The NDP responded with a statement that agreed the need to overhaul B.C.’s taxi regulations is “urgent,” but stopped short of saying they would support Weaver’s bill.
“I’m looking forward to working with Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and a full range of stakeholders as we develop a made in B.C. plan that protects jobs that currently exist while ensuring British Columbians have access to the modern ridesharing services they expect,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said in a statement.
B.C. is among the last jurisdictions in North America to welcome in ride-hailing apps. That’s due to tight regulations at the provincial Passenger Transportation Branch, which licenses taxis, as well as the government monopoly on auto insurance through ICBC, which currently doesn’t offer insurance to ride-hailing vehicles.
In May’s election, all parties promised to introduce “ridesharing” by 2017. Weaver’s plan would push ICBC to insure those vehicles, prohibit app drivers from picking up street hails, and keep airports for taxis alone.
Weaver said he would continue to regulate taxi fares through orders in council, which would be more quickly changed than by amending a law through the legislature.
In the meantime, several companies have started operating ride-hailing services under the table. A CTV investigation watched one of those companies in action, which claimed to have hundreds of drivers.
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that enforcement against the grey market companies is thin. Only five tickets issued in a five-hour period from a single address on one day in May.
“What needs to happen is a combined approach,” said Weaver. “Crack down on those operating without permits and bring in the enabling legislation.”
This will be Weaver’s third time introducing legislation aimed at enabling ridesharing in B.C., an issue that has long been a point of contention in provincial politics due to the financial threat it poses to the existing taxi industry. He first tabled the Ridesharing Enabling Act in 2016 and again in early 2017.
Many taxi companies have embraced apps and are ready to compete, said Kevin Scott of Victoria Taxi.
“Our smart hail app does everything that other apps do,” said Scott. But he said he wants regulation to treat taxis and new entrants to the market fairly – especially regarding insurance and licensing.
“I would like to see the playing field more even. I would like to see regulations shifted to them as well. If they can’t then the general public is put at risk,” he said.
One Surrey company called Kater has pushed the province’s existing rules as far as they’ll go by creating a service that connects customers with drivers through an app.
But unlike Uber-style apps, Kater is legal in B.C., because the car the chauffer is driving belongs to the customer.
That chauffeur comes to the customer, and drives them around, performing errands for an hourly rate.
It’s viewed as a designated driver service which removes it from the regulations of the Passenger Transportation Branch, and is insured as ICBC views the service as “lending a vehicle”.
Mandi Mangat, a Kater spokesperson, says the company has close to 200 drivers, and is also chaffing at B.C.’s restrictive rules.
“There needs to be another option for people,” she said. “We hear from our customers that they want a way to go for an evening out. We offer a very specialized service and it’s growing.”
In March, the province’s former Liberal government announced it would bring ride-hailing services to B.C. in time for the 2017 holiday season, following a year of public consultations that made clear there was an appetite for alternatives to taxis.
The plan included measures that would protect the taxi industry, which has struggled to compete in Canadian cities where Uber already operates.
Then-opposition leader John Horgan promised at the time that, if elected, the NDP would not follow through on the Liberals’ plan. Instead, it would restart the consultations with a focus on treating the existing taxi industry fairly.
On Monday, Weaver said he is encouraged by all three parties’ intent to move forward on the issue of ridesharing, despite differences on how to do so.
“I invite my colleagues on both sides of the house to discuss this legislation with me in advance of its introduction,” he said. “By working together, we can finally bring ridesharing to B.C. in a way that meets the needs of consumers while ensuring that B.C. business is able to thrive.”
Uber already operates in 16 Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.