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Vancouver loses what little ridesharing it had as Kater suspends service

Kater was billed as the cab companies answer to Uber and Lyft when it launched last spring but the app to book a pre-paid ride has suddenly suspended operations in B.C. Keith Baldrey has more.

As B.C. awaits Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies to hit the roads, Vancouver’s only service remotely similar to those apps is suspending its operations.

Kater, which is based in the city and has the support of the Vancouver Taxi Association, has decided to pull its vehicles off the roads as it awaits its ridesharing licence application to be approved by the province.

“In light of the impending legalization of ride-hailing services here in B.C. … Kater has made the decision to focus on our ride-hailing model immediately,” the company said in a statement.

“Kater has stopped operating its current hybrid fleet of cars and has started the process of switching to our full-scale ride-hailing operations, launching in the very near future.”

Premier takes heat over ride-sharing as B.C. legislative session ends
Premier takes heat over ride-sharing as B.C. legislative session ends

The company, which has been operating on a pilot basis since the spring, found a loophole in B.C.’s transportation laws last year that only allowed licensed taxis to transport customers.

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Kater cars obtain permits through the Vancouver Taxi Association and are operated by licensed taxi drivers. The cars are wrapped in the Kater branding, but customers still pay taxi rates. Other than those differences, the company boasts hailing a car works just like other ridesharing apps.

READ MORE: B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board to issue rideshare licences in ‘late’ 2019

In September, the company applied to the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) to operate province-wide, with plans to set up in Metro Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and the Okanagan followed by other communities in 2020.

Uber, Lyft and over a dozen other companies are also waiting for the PTB to review and approve their own licence applications.

CEO Scott Larson told Global News last week it plans to roll out its full ridesharing services within two weeks of being approved.

A spokesperson for Kater was not available to further comment on the suspension Sunday.

READ MORE: Kater applies for licence to operate ridesharing services B.C.-wide

BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal, who sits on the province’s all-party ridesharing committee, said the blame for Kater’s suspension should be placed squarely on the Vancouver Taxi Association.

“It was an attempt by the Vancouver Taxi Association to make sure ride-hailing didn’t succeed in this province and this city particularly, and it fell flat,” he said. “The public didn’t buy it at the end of the day.

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“It was cynical public policy encouraged by the NDP, and the fact that yesterday’s letter came out yesterday and said ‘we’re not moving forward,’ well it tells you the public didn’t buy it either, and thank god for that.”

Taking a Kater test-ride
Taking a Kater test-ride

It’s still not clear when ridesharing will hit the road. Both Transportation Minister Claire Trevena and Premier John Horgan have repeatedly expressed confidence some services will be running by the end of the year.

The PTB said last week its “first decisions on ride-hailing applications will be issued sometime towards the end of 2019,” but would not say anything beyond that.

Uber and Lyft have expressed concerns about the number of available drivers when, or if, their licences are approved, knocking the province’s requirement for ridesharing drivers to carry Class 4 licences.

A legal challenge has also been filed by the UFCW 1518 union asking the Labour Relations Board to rule those drivers should be considered employees, rather than contractors, which would afford them protections under B.C.’s labour laws.

—With files from Keith Baldrey and Richard Zussman