B.C. assigns undercover inspectors to catch unlicensed Uber drivers

The B.C. government will dispatch undercover inspectors to fine Uber drivers if the ride-sharing service launches without proper licences, says the transportation minister.

Todd Stone said Monday he has directed extra enforcement officers to be on the ready if Uber launches in Vancouver — as has been rumoured — without obtaining proper approvals and licensing that regulates the rest of the taxi industry.

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Uber links people looking for a ride with nearby available drivers using a smartphone app. The service operates in about 200 cities worldwide, and has proven a threat to existing taxi services because its drivers are often unlicensed and provide cheaper fares than traditional taxis.

“I believe that through heightened enforcement and heightened awareness we can get the message out to British Columbians that you must be licensed by the passenger transportation branch,” said Stone.

“It is not good enough to simply voluntarily stand up and say we believe we provide a safe service. If Uber believes it meets certain safety requirements then they should have no fear of sitting down with the passenger transportation branch and going through the same process that every other taxi and limousine company has to follow.”

Stone has directed the passenger transportation branch and commercial vehicle safety enforcement branch to prepare a “full force” response to Uber with “dozens of undercover enforcement officers.”

“We are going to ensure as we pay very close attention to Uber that if we actually begin to receive reports that they are operating in any community in B.C. we will have enforcement officers that will descend upon those communities in question and in an undercover manner they will use the app and ensure that drivers are properly licensed. And if they are not licensed they will be fined.”

Under the law, an unlicensed taxi driver faces fines ranging from $1,150 to $5,000. Stone said an unlicensed taxi driver is also not covered by the Insurance Corporation of B.C. if there’s a crash.

NDP Leader John Horgan said the opposition will propose legislation to increase fines to protect the B.C. taxi industry.

Stone said he’s started a discussion with the taxi industry on fine levels and whether any other taxi-related requirements should be changed.

Uber has not confirmed when, or even if, it plans to launch in Vancouver. It had briefly operated in the city in 2012 before leaving over a licences and fees dispute.

In a statement Monday, Uber shot back at critics.

“In every city in which we operate, our background check standards and insurance coverage meet or exceed what is required of taxis. In Toronto, Uber candidates are screened over their lifetime for potential DUI, traffic or sex offenses, whereas local taxis companies are only required to screen going back five years. Uber insures with our best-in-class $5 million insurance policy, whereas Toronto taxis are only required to carry $2 million in liability.”

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