Uber is coming to Metro Vancouver but for now it won’t be operating anywhere else in B.C.
On Wednesday, the world’s largest ridesharing company announced plans to apply to the BC Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) for authorization to operate in Metro Vancouver.
“We are very excited for the opportunity to provide ridesharing services in Metro Vancouver,” said Uber’s head of Western Canada Michael van Hemmen.
“For years, British Columbians have been clear that they want access to the same safe, affordable, reliable service they’ve used all over the world. We’re optimistic that Uber will be here for the busy holiday season.”
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The company expects to operate in Metro Vancouver by the end of 2019.
In a press release, Uber says it remains interested in service across B.C., but the “proposed regulations are not conducive to operations in smaller municipalities.”
The regulation most concerning to Uber and other ridesharing companies is the requirement that all drivers have a commercial Class 4 licence.
“There is currently no empirical data that demonstrates any safety benefit to requiring ridesharing drivers to hold a Class 4 licence compared to a Class 5 licence with strict screening for safe driving history,” Uber said in a statement.
“The unusual regulation to require a commercial licence, which only applies in two other jurisdictions in North America and requires B.C. drivers to write a test for driving a mini-bus which is not required anywhere, poses a significant barrier for drivers and will limit British Columbians’ access to safer rides.”
BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal said overall the announcement was good news for the travelling public, but said the Class 4 restriction would hamstring the industry.
“Uber today announces they’re going to enter the market, but only based on how many Class 4 drivers they have. They didn’t say they’re entering Abbotsford and Chilliwack or parts of Surrey on day one. They’re going to need a lot of drivers, probably 2,000,” he said.
WATCH: Liberal MLA Jas Johal discusses the latest addition to B.C.’s ridesharing community
Johal argued that would leave Uber, Lyft and existing taxi companies fighting over a limited pool of qualified drivers.
“It says nothing today for other parts of British Columbia,” he said. “We’re picking regions that are going to win.”
A Class 4 licence requires higher driving exams scores, additional tests and a doctor’s exam. The Vancouver Police Department is supportive of Class 4 licences because of the possibility of increased safety due to the extra tests and inspections.
The major concern with the Class 4 licence provision is there won’t be enough drivers to provide the service people are used to in other cities.
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Uber doesn’t come without significant controversy. The company has often been criticized for bullying tactics in communities, including a battle in Portland, Oregon where the state’s transportation commissioner called Uber management “a bunch of thugs.”
Lyft previously announced plans to operate only in Metro Vancouver.
Kater, a B.C.-based startup, also announced plans to operate outside of Metro Vancouver.
The provincial government is in the midst of building a “made-in-B.C.” ride-hailing industry. The independent Passenger Transportation Board put in regulations earlier this month including large regional boundaries, the same minimum price as taxis, and no cap on fleet sizes.
The taxi industry is vowing to push back against the PTB regulations and is concerned around the loose boundaries and the potential for limitless ridesharing vehicles.
“We were absolutely shocked. We were hoping for a level playing field and we got annihilated,” Vancouver Taxi Association president Carolyn Bauer said last week.
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“We knew ridesharing was coming, we went to meeting after meeting trying to make this work. We thought B.C. had the opportunity to do it right and set an example for provinces across Canada. But we were just dropped with it. Congestion is going to be so terrible especially in Vancouver.”
The province is also raising concerns around the PTB’s decision. Public Safety minister Mike Farnworth says the government is worried about how the lack of a cap on fleet size will impact traffic.
“We are concerned about congestion that is one of the reasons we are concerned about no caps on licences,” Farnworth said.