Ridesharing is still months away from becoming reality in B.C., but when the provincial government gets around to opening the door to companies like Uber and Lyft part of the requirement for operation will be drivers with a higher level of training.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has maintained that safety on the roads is the B.C’s government’s top priority and says drivers will need to obtain a Class 4 licence to pick up passengers.
“I stand by the Class 4 licence,” she said. “Class 4 is a commercial licence. If you are going to be earning a living driving people around, as app-based ride-hailing drivers do, you will need the safest licence possible and for us at the moment that is Class 4.”
WATCH: Claire Trevena and ridesharing drivers needing class 4 licences
Data released by the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) suggests Class 4 drivers aren’t necessarily safer than the general public. According to ICBC, there are roughly 50,000 Class 4 licence holders in B.C. compared to 2.8 million Class 5 drivers.
Collision data compiled by the Crown corporation shows that from 2012 to 2016 Class 4 drivers caused about one fewer collision per hundred drivers than Class 5 drivers over the the same period.
ICBC’s stats come with a number of caveats. The data doesn’t account for time behind the wheel or kilometres driven, but the raw data has ridesharing proponents left scratching their heads.
Advocates in B.C. want to work with the ministry to make ridesharing safer, but without adding another layer of bureaucracy.
There are already questions about how long it will take to qualify for a Class 4 licence. As more people try to join the pool of drivers, there are fears there won’t be enough people to administer the needed tests.
“It is now hard for the minister to say Class 4 is safer,” Ian Tostenson of Ridesharing Now for BC said. “The numbers don’t bear that out. We want to work with her to make Class 5 different and customize it around ridesharing in B.C.”
WATCH: All-party committee delivers report on ridesharing in B.C.
A committee formed to look into ridesharing recommended last month that the government scrap Class 4 in favour of what is commonly called Class 5-plus. Class 5 drivers can get a safety inspection and a criminal background check which would allow for a larger pool of drivers to hit the road to meet the demands of the public.
“The fact that there is very little difference between the collision rates between Class 4 and Class 5 shows that is not really the issue,” Liberal MLA Jas Johal, who sat on the committee and has been a sharp critic of how the NDP has handled this file.
“At the end of the day it is political. The NDP is using the Class 4 issue to create a system that they want to see and that keeps the taxi industry happy.”
Other provinces do make a special class of licence a requirement when driving for a ridesharing service. Alberta and Quebec have a similar structure to B.C.’s Class 4 licence. Uber operates in both of those provinces, but according to economists who study ridesharing, it severely restricts the pool of drivers, and generally restricts operations to larger city centres.