Ride-hailing OK’d for Greater Victoria; firm that skirted rules given another chance

The first ride-hailing company to be approved to operate in Greater Victoria skirted provincial rules in the past, but is being given another chance.

The Passenger Transportation Board acknowledged Kabu’s application was not straightforward, given the parent company had previously not followed B.C. regulations. However, in its decision, the board said Kabu should be given the chance to demonstrate its commitment to regulatory compliance.

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The board said it would review, within 18 months, Kabu’s suitability to run a ride-hailing service.

The Richmond-based company’s parent firm, GoKabu, operated between 2016 and 2019 outside the ride-hailing regulatory framework and in contravention of the Passenger Transportation Act, serving the Chinese community in B.C. through the social media channel WeChat.

Kabu, run by Yi (Billy) Xiong, said it intends to start operating as soon as possible in Greater Victoria, the Lower Mainland and Nanaimo. It intends to expand to Kelowna and Kamloops within the year. There are no fleet limits imposed on ride-hailing services, and Kabu has not indicated how many cars it expects to have on the road in Greater Victoria.

Kabu spokesman Martin van den Hemel said it hopes to launch in Greater Victoria within a couple of months, but that will be dictated by the number of drivers it can attract. Kabu will need at least 50 drivers, and as many as 100 full- and part-time drivers, to properly serve the region.

Its focus on the international community sets Kabu apart, he said. Customers, using Kabu’s app, will be able to select the language to be used during the ride and transaction. “We target a different sector of the community — we target tourists, international students and immigrants, and unlike other companies, [our software] allows customers to select the language of a driver in their area,” he said.

That could mean visitors from the Philippines select a driver who speaks that language to gain insights about the city during their ride.

Van den Hemel said Kabu hopes to offer English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Filipino, Spanish, Punjabi and more. “We want the best drivers with as many language skills as we can get.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city is ready for the service. “’I’m really glad to see a ride-hailing company approved for the region,” she said. “It will give people yet another transportation option, hopefully encouraging more people to leave a car behind.

“In terms of the city, we made preparations in terms of bylaw changes in anticipation of this happening. So we are ready to go and people are welcome to come into city hall and get a business licence.”

Van den Hemel said his company will be an attractive option for drivers because it offers health, dental and insurance benefits and rewards to offset the cost of operating and maintaining vehicles.

The company expects a lot of demand. “So far, just from the Chinese community, we know we can do hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of drives every day in Victoria alone,” he said. “We operated for three and a half years, including in Victoria, with just the Chinese community.”

The company said it managed an average of 3,000 rides a day between 2016 and the fall of 2019 in B.C.

Also approved by the board on Friday was Apt Rides, which has been given approval to operate in the Lower Mainland and Whistler.

The board turned down three other firms, including two — Inorbis Corporation and Tappcar Inc. — that had hoped to operate in Greater Victoria.

Since December, five firms that wanted to operate in the capital region have been turned down by the board.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

 

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