Officials in B.C. say there’s little they can do to shut down rogue ridesharing operations that have set up shop in Metro Vancouver while big players like Uber and Lyft remain on the sidelines.
A number of services are taking advantage of a legal grey area to operate in the region, particularly in Richmond.
It’s an issue that has frustrated Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who said that while his community is not the only one affected, the issue is prevalent in Richmond because of the propensity of such apps to operate in Chinese.
Brodie said the city has flagged numerous safety violations, including ridesharing drivers with “N” stickers on their vehicles.
LISTEN: Kabu ridesharing service explains how it operates in Richmond
“There was one driver who had a suspended licence. There was another driver who had an unrestrained child in the back seat. Those are the kind of things that we’re finding,” Brodie told CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show.
Timo Hengge, director of PR with Kabu, one company operating in Richmond, says his service is giving about 2,500 rides per day.
The service is offered only in Mandarin, and Hengge says his firm has been assured by the Passenger Transportation Board and Ministry of Transportation that it is not breaking any laws.
WATCH: Strong reaction to illegal ridesharing in Richmond
“We actually don’t provide any rides, we just provide a platform. We’re a tech startup, not a ridesharing company,” he told the Lynda Steele Show.
“We just provide a platform for riders and drivers to connect. We do not accept any payments from any riders: our customer is the driver. The driver pays a listing fee to us.”
LISTEN: NDP MLA Bowinn Ma weighs in on illegal ridesharing
But Bowinn Ma, the NDP MLA who chaired the province’s ridesharing committee, said the services are breaking the spirit if not the letter of the law.
“They know full well that the services that they are providing through the app, through those drivers that are connected to them, are not lawful,” she said.
However, Ma said the current legal regime is designed to target drivers that are violating regulations, not their dispatchers.
She said that worked well with taxi drivers but is ineffective against app-based systems.
WATCH: Illegal ridesharing in B.C.
“So that’s where they’ve become very clever on this. They have completely offloaded responsibility onto their drivers and they’ve wiped their hands clean.”
LISTEN: Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie on illegal ridesharing
In Richmond, Brodie said the city is working with the province to crack down where it can.
“It’s a matter of getting the various agencies that are involved in the situation and in the illegal rideshares, getting them together. We have prosecuted many of them,” he said.
“They get tickets for everything from operating a business without a licence, failing to have their chauffeur’s permit, failing to have a tariff card, failing to have insurance papers … everything across the board.”
Ma said enforcement will become easier in the fall once the province’s new ridesharing legislation takes effect, allowing officials to conduct enforcement against ridesharing platforms that are flouting the rules.
The province has yet to unveil final regulations or an ICBC insurance product for legal ridesharing services.