British Columbia will not have ride-hailing until at least the fall of 2019. The B.C. provincial government had previously committed to having the services in place by Christmas 2017.
“People need to be able to get around safely and reliably,” said Transportation Minister Claire Trevena. “That’s why we’re putting more taxis on the streets, and laying the groundwork for new services to enter the market.”
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“I know that people are looking for expanded transportation options to be available very soon and I want to re insure them that a lot of work is being done to have this accomplished but we need to get this right.”
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The provincial government released a report on Thursday by Dan Hara that looked into modernizing British Columbia’s taxi industry.
The report recommends getting rid of municipal boundaries for taxis, increasing the number of taxis on the road by 15 per cent and allowing discounted pricing for taxi trips ordered by smartphone app.
But Hara did recommend the province could consider regional boundaries that would continue to restrict where drivers could pick up passengers.
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“At the heart of consumer and business concerns over B.C. taxi service is supply,” reads the Hara report. “Non-industry stakeholders stated clearly that they want more and better vehicle-for-hire service.”
“Smaller communities and First Nations want their communities better served, especially where present service is spotty or non-existent. Large urban communities experience shortages during peak hours, especially on weekend nights or during special events.”
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The province has promised to quickly start working with the Passenger Transportation Safety Board to get more cabs on the road. The goal is to hit the recommended target of a 15 per cent increases, which would mean 300 new cabs in Metro Vancouver and 200 in the rest of the province.
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The government will then introduce amended legislation in the fall that would ‘lay the ground work for new companies to enter the market’. Trevena said once that legislation was passed, ride hailing companies could start applying to work in British Columbia. The province’s public insurer, ICBC, also must wait until legislation is done to create a new package for ride-hailing drivers.
“One of the last pieces will be working with ICBC to provide insurance models for the industry,” said Trevena. “We need the insurance in place. Once ICBC has done that the doors will be open to ride hailing companies to come to B.C. if they so choose.”
The province is also adopting the recommendation to give the taxi industry the ability to provide discount fare when trips are booked through smartphone apps. The idea of charging ride-hailing drivers a fee to enter the B.C. market is also being considered, an additional cost that other jurisdictions that have ride-hailing does not have.
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“You can be fair without giving them the exact same rules,” said Uber Western Canada General Manager Michael van Hemmen. “Other jurisdictions in Canada have done that. When you look at Brampton, Ontario. They were the most recent jurisdiction to release data from ride sharing and what happened with the taxi industry. What it found was taxi ridership was flat. Ride sharing is bigger than the taxi industry and public transit went up 17 per cent. It is absolutely possible to find a way to make all modes grow.”
The B.C. Green Party has been advocating for ride sharing and is frustrated that the government is not implementing new services at the same time as updating the taxi industry. Critic Adam Olsen said that both the NDP, and before that the B.C. Liberals, have been playing politics with the industry.
“The foot dragging on this has been about winning or losing swing ridings during elections,” said Olsen. “We have been putting this issue forward. We believe British Columbians should be able to access the rides that they need. I want to be very clear what is going on here is partisan games and that is what needs to end.”
The Vancouver Taxi Association is pitching a plan to help keep ride-hailing companies like Uber out of Metro Vancouver.
The association has a tentative agreement in place to develop a ride-for-hire app called Kater. The deal would leave 20 per cent of the profits with taxi companies and calls for provincial licensing of 200 “Kater Cabs,” which would operate like typical ride-hailing cars that companies like Uber and Lyft have operating in other cities.
Hara’s report cautioned against providing a monopoly to the taxi industry in providing ride-hailing services.
Ridesharing Now for BC, a group advocating for new services in B.C., initially called Thursday’s announcement a ‘positive’ step. But the group later went on social media to express frustration with the province.
“We are extremely disappointed in today’s announcement that ridesharing is going to take at least 18 months,” posted the group online. “BC deserve the same services that are available across Canada reducing impaired driving and increasing access to affordable, reliable service and they deserve it this year.”
Numbers provided by Uber show that more than 500,000 have opened the companies app in the last two years. The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade produced a report in February 2016, entitled Innovative Transportation Options for Metro Vancouver, which outlined specific steps that the provincial government could take to immediately begin modernizing our traditional taxi industry while paving the way for ride-hailing.
“For years, our province has been spinning its wheels on ridesharing and the modernization of the taxi industry,” said GVBOT President Iain Black. “Today’s announcement perpetuates the taxi monopoly while only partially addressing the underlying problems that the industry requires to be fixed, with no firm timelines in place.”