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Ride hailing in B.C.: Where is it going?

B.C.’s riding public wants more options, Uber is vexed by the province‘s new rules and taxi drivers worry about disruptions
A taxi cab passes the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson on Douglas Street.

Dressed in a black and white Adidas track suit, with bluetooth headphones in his ears, 27-year-old Sunni Bains sits outside the Blackball ferry terminal waiting for a fare. Bains owns his Victoria Taxi cab and after five years in the business, he’s now making a comfortable living. Other than the frustrations of traffic and the occasional bad driver, Bains said he likes his job.

But like many taxi drivers in B.C., Bains is worried about the disruptions ride hailing will bring.

“Of course it’s going to affect us. Obviously, it’s going to affect any taxi driver,” Bains said.

The riding public, however, sick of being stranded on a street corner late at night or waiting during peak times, is demanding more affordable options and is frustrated about waiting at least another year before the B.C. government opens the door to ride-hailing companies such as Uber, Lyft or TappCar.

The Passenger Transportation Amendment Act, which passed Monday night, seemed to raise more questions than answers about whether the number of ride-hailing vehicles will be capped, whether the Passenger Transportation Board will institute price controls, what the insurance model will look like and whether the ride-hailing industry will be so over-regulated, companies might bypass B.C. altogether.

Uber has already expressed frustration with the made-in-B.C. model that the company says threatens the viability of ride-hailing.

“Unfortunately, Bill 55 maintains key barriers to entry that have prevented ride-sharing from operating in B.C.,” said Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s general manager of cities for western Canada. Van Hemmen said no other jurisdiction in Canada caps the number of vehicles or controls pricing.

Speaking to reporters last week, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena was vague on the issue of vehicle caps.

She said the Passenger Transportation Board will use data to determine the appropriate number of ride-hailing vehicles and taxis to serve high-demand areas.

“They’re going to look at where cars are needed and make sure there’s enough service in those areas,” she said.

The board will balance demand with a need to ensure ride-hailing vehicles don’t flood the market and create gridlock.

The legislation gives more power to the Passenger Transportation Board to regulate the ride-hailing industry, removing the licensing process and criminal record checks from municipalities in favour of a more centralized approach. It also requires drivers to obtain a class 4 commercial licence, the same class required for taxi drivers and minibus drivers, something Uber has balked at.

Victoria Taxi general manager Kevin Scott laughs at the suggestion that the B.C. government is choking ride-hailing companies with red tape.

“I’m sorry, the taxi industry in British Columbia has been over-regulated for years,” Scott said. “If you’re going to take away our business, be on the same playing level.”

Scott said he’s not worried about taxi owners being lured over to ride-hailing companies.

The taxi owner depends on his car for his livelihood, Scott said, whereas the Uber driver is a “Weekend Willy who wants to make a couple of bucks to get a case of beer for Saturday night.”

Ride-hailing drivers are being “ripped off” and are lucky if they make minimum wage, Scott said.

That concern is shared by the B.C. Federation of Labour, which criticized multinational companies such as Uber for creating precarious and unstable work environments with low wages.

TappCar, a ride-hailing company operating in Alberta and Manitoba, has allowed its Edmonton drivers to unionize.

The management of TappCar has a very forward-thinking view of labour relations,” said Jim Haryett, union business agent for Teamsters local 987.

Haryett acknowledged that as with food-delivery drivers, ride hailing is part of the “gig economy,” where people work as much or as little as they like.

“The difference is that TappCar is driver-focused. They understand that they’re not going to retain good drivers if the drivers can’t make a good living.”

The way TappCar operates in Alberta and Manitoba is very different, due to varying insurance policies.

In Manitoba, drivers are responsible for getting their own “passenger vehicle for hire” insurance through the public insurance provider, Manitoba Public Insurance. Drivers can choose different levels of insurance, depending how much or little they want to work.

In Alberta, where the ride-hailing insurance is called SPF9, TappCar covers the car’s insurance from the moment the driver is dispatched through the app to the moment the customer exits the car. Ride-hailing drivers are responsible for covering their own insurance when they don’t have a fare.

TappCar spokesman Pascal Ryffel said the company prefers the Manitoba model “because it puts more of the onus on the driver to drive carefully and make sure they have a good record.”

The specific ride-hailing insurance crafted by the Insurance Corporation of B.C., which likely won’t be ready until the fall of 2019, could affect which ride-hailing companies set up shop in B.C.

The “vehicle for hire” insurance offered by Manitoba Public Insurance is a big sticking point for Uber and Lyft and a key reason the companies have opted out of the Manitoba market.

Uber has said Manitoba’s requirement that drivers purchase vehicle-for-hire insurance lacks the necessarily flexibility for part-time drivers. The company prefers the Alberta model, where the company can purchase a blanket insurance policy that covers all drivers when they’re on the clock.

While many of the finer details won’t be hammered out until the Passenger Transportation Board sets out specific regulations, Uber continues to lobby the provincial government for the changes it wants.

“Uber will continue to advocate on behalf of British Columbians who have been hoping for ride-sharing for many years,” van Hemmen said.

How much does it cost to become a taxi driver?

Licensing fee: $200 initial application fee, plus $200 for a national safety code number. Plus a $100 annual vehicle fee.

Criminal record check: $75 a year in B.C.

Administrative fee to taxi company: varies based on the driver, but averages $1,500 per month

Insurance: varies per driver but could range from $700 to $1,800 per month.

Cost of a taxi medallion: Taxi drivers who want to own their taxi pay monthly fees to the taxi company and those fees vary depending on how quickly they want to pay their cab off. Victoria Taxi manager Kevin Scott said taxi medallions used to be worth $280,000 but currently, owners are lucky to sell one for $75,000.

How much does it cost to work for a ride-hailing company?

Licensing fee: Will be determined by the Passenger Transportation Board

Criminal record check: $75 a year in B.C.

Administrative fee to ride hailing company: none

Percentage of all fares: Uber and Lyft take 25 per cent commission on each fare. TappCar takes a 25 per cent commission, except in Edmonton, where the commission is nine per cent.

Insurance: Varies depending on jurisdiction.

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