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Lyft chief says B.C. ridesharing rules could drive up costs for riders, limit options

Lyft boss talks about ridehailing challenges in B.C. and 2019 holiday operation
Lyft general manager says ridehailing will arrive in B.C. before the end of the year but not to the extent many are hoping. Jill Bennett explains.

B.C.’s general manager for Lyft says the ever-increasing rules and licenses required for ridesharing could drive up costs and make the experience less than ideal.

The Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) is continuing to review Lyft’s application to operate in Metro Vancouver. Other major companies like Uber are also awaiting approval for licenses, with the hope that ridesharing will be up and running in B.C. by Christmas.

But Peter Lukomskyj says Lyft is growing concerned about the restrictions that are being put in place in municipalities like Vancouver — which are in addition to provincial rules like requiring drivers to carry Class 4 licenses.

New obstacle to ridesharing in Vancouver
New obstacle to ridesharing in Vancouver

“We had hoped that we would have the provincial license as an overarching license,” he said. “But now what we’re seeing is municipalities trying to take a look at how they can also either regulate or license ridesharing. And it’s thrown some uncertainty our way, to be honest.”

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The PTB’s ridesharing rules include larger regional zones for ridesharing companies to operate in. The so-called Region One includes all of Metro Vancouver, the Sea to Sky Corridor and the Fraser Valley.

READ MORE: Vancouver city council approves additional ridesharing fees to manage congestion

That would allow ridesharing vehicles to pick up a passenger in Vancouver and take them to Surrey, then take a passenger from Surrey to Richmond, and so on. It’s also a big change from how taxis operate, which are only allowed to pick up passengers in the municipalities they’re licensed in.

But Vancouver city council’s recent approval of both a $100-per-vehicle licensing fee and a 30-cent congestion fee puts the idea of Region One into question. Lukomskyj says it would be Lyft that pays for those costs — which could be passed off to passengers.

“Ultimately, the price of ridesharing for the consumer, for the rider is a bit uncertain right now,” he said. “Especially as these other municipalities look at potentially mimicking Vancouver’s approach and perhaps even hitting us with hard with higher fees.”

Lyft to help prospective drivers get Class 4 licences
Lyft to help prospective drivers get Class 4 licences

Lukomskyj won’t say which other municipalities are considering similar licenses. But he does say if they’re introduced, they could end up putting ridesharing vehicles in line with taxis.

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“It’s called dead heading,” he said. “And so what you end up with is this ride that goes in one direction, and the driver has to come back to Vancouver to get another ride. And that really is is a bad experience for our drivers.”

Lukomskyj adds Lyft is considering bringing in geo-fencing that would all-out prevent ridesharing from operating in some corners of Metro Vancouver that prove too restrictive.

READ MORE: B.C. government raises concerns to Passenger Transportation Board over ridesharing vehicle caps

Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, the only city councillor who voted against the licensing fees, says restrictions like that are exactly what the region should be trying to avoid.

“I think what you are doing is replicating a taxi model, and the entire attempt was to move forward into the 21st century and evolve that,” she said. “That’s not what is happening.”

Lukomskyj says Lyft is already paying to put hundreds of applicants through driving school in order to get the Class 4 licenses required by the province — yet another additional cost the company has had to face.

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says she remains confident ridesharing will be in place by the end of the year, and that the right way to operate will become clear as the industry takes off.

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READ MORE: Class 4 licence written test required for ridesharing drivers has no mention of ridesharing

“We’re really happy that we have ride-hailing coming in and that municipalities are willing to work with ride-hailing to make sure it works in their regions,” she said.

“We do anticipate that municipalities will want to be bringing in business licenses as a way to be earning money from businesses operating in their regions.

With all this uncertainty, Lukomskyj says when ridesharing does come to the Lower Mainland, it could be less than what the public is expecting.

“We’re trying our best to establish a business that we know Vancouver is hungry for, but … it may leave people wanting a little bit with the type of service that we provide,” he said.

“What I’d like to do is to be able to bring everyone home from all the holiday parties this year.”

—With files from Jill Bennett