January 8, 2018 10:02 pm
Updated: January 8, 2018 10:03 pm

Uber, taxi industry make their case as ride-hailing hearings begin in Vancouver

WATCH: Ride-hailing meetings get underway in Vancouver.

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Uber, the taxi industry and representatives from B.C.’s three major political parties met in Vancouver on Monday to discuss the future of ride-hailing.

It was the first of three days of presentations from expert witnesses to an all-party committee on ride-hailing.

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NDP MLA Bowinn Ma said the hearings will answer key questions about future legislation enabling the industry.

“How do we make sure that ride-hailing services in B.C. are playing on a level playing field with other ride-hailing services that already exist, such as taxis?” asked Ma.

“How do we ensure that consumers aren’t being taken advantage of in terms of surge pricing, and how does a ride-hailing service, through a technology app, how does that fit into our overall car insurance scheme?”

LISTEN: How do you feel about ride-hailing services?

MLAs spent the afternoon peppering Uber Canada spokesperson Michael van Hemmen with questions about wages for drivers, prices for customers and access for disabled passengers.

The company defended its surge-pricing model, which it said is crucial to attracting drivers to busy areas, and cited a Princeton University study which found Uber drivers earn as much or more than the average cab driver.

Bringing the service to B.C. could create tens of thousands of jobs, van Hemmen further argued.

Solving the issue of insurance for ride-hailing is also simpler than politicians are making it out to be, van Hemmen argued.

“Simply, Uber would purchase insurance from ICBC that would cover every trip from when the driver accepts a trip request to when they drop off the last passenger,” he said.

‘Made in B.C.’ ride-hailing app

B.C.’s taxi industry made its own case to MLAs on Monday, arguing for a single, unified ride-hailing app for the province, which it called a “made in B.C.” solution.

Vancouver Taxi Association president Carolyn Bauer acknowledged that “the needs of the public are not being met,” but argued that ride-hailing services need to be held to the same standards as existing taxis.

She pitched an app called “Kater,” which would dispatch the nearest vehicle whether it be a taxi, an Uber or any other ride-hailing vehicle.

“That’s up to them to make a decision on whether or not they want to join us,” she said.

“I guess it depends on why should they? Why wouldn’t they want to? Why wouldn’t they want to if they want to operate in British Columbia?”

LISTEN: All members committee on ride-hailing meets in Vancouver

Bauer argued the app is a way to level the playing field, while keeping profits from ride-hailing in B.C.

However, BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver raised concerns about the idea, suggesting it would limit competition in the industry.

Vancouver cab companies already operate a similar app, known as eCab, which connects users to all of the city’s four licensed cab companies.

An app called Kater — which provides drivers who then ferry passengers around in their own cars — already exists. It was not immediately clear whether Bauer’s proposal involved a partnership with that app.

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The all-party committee was formed at the urging of Weaver after the NDP government reneged on a pledge to have ride-hailing in place by the end of 2017.

The province has commissioned a separate study of the taxi industry, due this spring, with ride-hailing legislation expected by next fall.

The committee will hold two more hearings in Vancouver on Tuesday and Wednesday, and produce a report due on Feb. 15.

— With files from Jeremy Lye and Tanya Beja

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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