Uber rumoured to be launching in Vancouver on Halloween
Rumours are swirling that the ridesharing service Uber will launch in Vancouver on Friday, despite warnings from the provincial government.
Uber Canada general manager Jeff Welsher spoke to CKNW on Thursday but would neither confirm nor deny the speculation. He said only that the company is always looking to “surprise and delight.”
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation said Uber has not applied for a licence to operate in the province, and that drivers risk fines of $1,150 for driving without one.
The fine jumps up to $5,000 for repeated offenders.
Minister Todd Stone said the company is welcome in B.C. as long as it abides by the rules, which he said are in place to ensure safety.
“I support additional choice and convenience for consumers, that’s a good thing, but not at the expense of safety,” Stone said. “They have to go through the same channels, the same processes that every taxi company and limousine company in this province have.”
On top of a licence, taxi and rideshare operators in B.C. need to have a National Safety Code Safety Certificate, conduct semi-annual vehicle inspections, and obtain proper commercial insurance.
Stone also warned that insurance purchased through the Insurance Corporation of B.C. is voided when a vehicle is being used for unlicensed taxi or ridesharing services.
“You travel in these vehicles as a passenger at your own risk, and you drive these vehicles at significant risk, in terms of not being covered by ICBC insurance” he said.
Uber issued a statement Friday insisting that it makes safety a priority, and applies background checks and insurance standards that “meet or exceed what is required of taxis” in every city the company operates in.
“Similarly, we carry a best-in-class $5 million insurance policy that covers all Uber rides end to end,” spokesperson Arielle Goren said.
Uber still requires that drivers carry their own additional insurance coverage.
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan cited similar concerns about Uber, but said the province should send an even stronger message that scofflaws will be punished.
Horgan said he’s proposing a bill to increase the maximum fines for operating without a permit to $20,000.
If Uber launches in Vancouver on Halloween, it will also be flying in the face of city council, which voted earlier this month to keep the company out of service for at least six months to research the impact it could have on the taxi industry.
Coun. Geoff Meggs said the city has worked hands-on with the taxi industry for years to ensure certain safeguards are in place, including that every driver is subject to a criminal record check, and trained to help customers with disabilities.
“What we see in the Uber model is basically people self-identifying to try to pick up a bit of spare change driving Uber cars, and that’s quite a different arrangement,” he said.
Uber has set up limited service in Halifax and Montreal, and is fully operational in Toronto. Ottawa rejected the company earlier this month, arguing it's an unregulated taxi service despite Uber’s insistence that it’s merely a technology company connecting willing drivers and passengers with each other.