Ride-share service Uber rolls into Victoria to gauge driver interest

It’s not yet permitted in B.C., but that’s not stopping ride-sharing giant Uber from rolling into Victoria next week.

Uber Canada announced Thursday that it will be in town April 12 hosting “a driver partner info session.” The session is planned for 6 to 9 p.m. at the Hotel Grand Pacific.

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“We hold these info sessions in communities across Canada so people can learn about the benefits of the Uber platform and so we may assess local driver interest,” Susie Heath, Uber Canada spokesperson, said in a statement.

Peter Fassbender, the provincial minister overseeing TransLink, began talking with stakeholders in late January about the impact of such services in the context of a larger review of taxi licensing. The B.C. government has said it won’t make any decisions on allowing a ride-share service such as Uber until it has finished that review.

Mohan Kang, a taxi driver of more than 20 years who is president of the Victoria-based B.C. Taxi Association, is not surprised Uber is trying to make inroads here.

“That’s what they normally do ... I think they’re just trying to put out on pressure tactics which a responsible corporate entity won’t do, but they’re not a responsible corporate entity,” Kang said.

Uber maintains that B.C. is the largest jurisdiction in North America without ride-sharing, although more than 100,000 British Columbians have signed up and downloaded the Uber app.

But news reports from the Lower Mainland suggest that even though Uber has yet to get a foothold in this province, it is already changing the playing field.

This week, the Vancouver Province reported that taxi licences that used to sell for almost $1 million now have little value because of the uncertainty Uber has created in the marketplace.

Kang said his association’s main concern with Uber is one of public safety.

“There’s no way they can address the public safety,” he said. “What they’re doing is anybody who is Class 5 [driver’s licence], 21 years old, has a car which is 10 years old or newer, four-door and who has regular insurance is an Uber driver.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she’s fine with Uber setting up shop if the province decides it’s OK.

“I know that Minister Fassbender is doing all of the engagement that I would be doing if I was in his shoes,” Helps said.

“He’s meeting the taxi industry and meeting with the boards of trade to make sure that there is a made-in-B.C. solution that as much as possible protects the current industry and allows new opportunities to emerge as well.”

In recent weeks, Uber launched an advertising campaign on the Lower Mainland to pressure the province into allowing the ride-sharing service to operate in B.C.

The Uber ads discuss long wait times for traditional taxis in places such as Surrey, and detail how B.C. is falling behind Seattle, Toronto and other major cities in allowing the service.

The company has also added a “future view” feature to its Uber app, simulating how cars with wait times of five minutes or less would respond to requests in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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