Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft won’t be operating in B.C. until at least 2019, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced Thursday.
“We know that people are frustrated and are waiting far too long for solutions to the lack of transportation options that are available,” Trevena said at a news conference in Vancouver. “I know people are looking for more options. I want to assure them, work is happening to get this accomplished.”
The B.C. government promised to introduce legislation this fall to allow ride-hailing, but companies such as Uber and Lyft won’t be able to submit applications to the Passenger Transportation Board until September 2019.
Meanwhile, Trevena said the province will work with the board to boost the number of taxis operating around B.C. by 15 per cent, which means 300 more cabs in the Lower Mainland and 200 more cabs in the rest of the province.
The province will give the taxi industry the flexibility to offer discount rates when they’re booked through an app and give customers the ability to pay directly through an app.
These were among the recommendations made by Dan Hara, an industry expert commissioned by the province to consult with the taxi industry and make recommendations on a “made-in-B.C.” approach to ride-hailing.
Trevena dismissed suggestions that B.C. is “behind the times” compared with other Canadian cities and to countries around the world that have allowed ride-hailing companies to introduce competition for the taxi industry.
“Our approach will ensure people are safe when they get into a taxi, while opening the door to other ride-hailing services so they can get around their communities, their cities more efficiently,” Trevena said.
Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for transportation, said the government should modernize the taxi industry while at the same time bringing in ride-hailing.
“While we are disappointed British Columbians will still not have ride-hailing this winter, we are glad that the government has committed to a path forward,” Olsen said.
Olsen acknowledged that ride-hailing is a disruptor for the taxi industry and legislation needs to address issues such as working conditions, public safety and a fair playing field for existing businesses.
Michael van Hemmen, manager of cities west at Uber Canada, said ride-hailing can come to B.C. much sooner than what Trevena has purprosed. “Frankly, it’s a bit confusing why, when legislation will be passed this fall, the general public will need another year of delays before they have ride-sharing in place,” van Hemmen said.
Victoria Taxi general manager Kevin Scott said his biggest frustration isn’t potential competition from ride-hailing companies, it’s the stranglehold taxi companies are placed in when trying to comply with Passenger Transportation Board regulations.
The board limits the number of taxis each company can operate and dictates the prices they must charge.
“My company can’t grow because of the number of restrictions put on us,” Scott said.
Victoria Taxi has 59 taxis and has been allowed to grow by only eight cabs in the last decade, he said.
“I get consumers calling me all the time saying: ‘You don’t have enough fricking taxis on the road, what the hell is going on?’ All my cabs are maxed out on Friday and Saturday nights, New Year’s Eve and special events, but I can’t because of restrictions.”
Victoria Taxi, Blue Bird and Yellow Cab all have apps customers can use to order taxis and track the driver’s progress, but passengers cannot pay through the app, Scott said.
He questions how successful Uber and Lyft will be in Greater Victoria where a large population of seniors might still want to order their cabs by phone.
Mohan Kang, president of the B.C. Taxi Association, said the year-long time span in rolling out ride-hailing “will give us the opportunity to modernize and be more competitive.”
The B.C. taxi industry has learned lessons from other cities where ride-hailing has proliferated, Kang said. “If we fail to provide a better service to our customers, at the end of the day it’s nobody’s fault but ours.”
Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association and speaking on behalf of the group Ridesharing Now for B.C., said he recognizes the provincial government is taking a cautious approach and sees Trevena’s announcement as a positive step toward. “We’re seeing this as really positive. Maybe not as fast as we all would like to see,” he said.
Tostenson believes the government is taking a measured approach because ride-hailing is a political issue that faces backlash from the taxi industry.
He said taxi companies can still thrive while competing with Uber and Lyft. “Every city we see ride-sharing, the taxi industry is flourishing,” he said. “I haven’t seen a market yet where the taxi industry gets creamed. It’s going to be fine.”