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‘We have bills to pay’: Kater drivers left in the lurch as company pulls the plug at Christmas

Click to play video 'Kater drivers say they’ve been shafted by cab industry' Kater drivers say they’ve been shafted by cab industry
WATCH: Kater drivers say they've been shafted by cab industry. – Dec 12, 2019

A driver for Metro Vancouver’s quasi-rideshare service Kater is speaking out, saying he and his colleagues have been left in the lurch as the company hit pause to “focus on our ride-hailing model immediately.”

Eric Carlos has been working for the company since April 15, and even earned some local fame when he spearheaded the company’s “Kateroke” initiative.

READ MORE: Vancouver loses what little ridesharing it had as Kater suspends service

The option let passengers book a car with a disco ball, microphones and an iPad to sing along as they made their way to their destination.

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But Carlos, a father of four, said he’s now scrambling to cover holiday costs after the company gave him no notice that it was pulling the plug.

“It was a bit of a shock to me and for all the other drivers in the same situation,” Carlos told Global News.

“We weren’t given enough notice. Christmas is just around the corner, we have bills to pay, we have families. We didn’t realized it was going to be this quick.”

Late last month, Kater said it was suspending its fleet given the “impending legalization of ride-hailing services.”

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

β€œKater 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,” the company said in a statement.

But Carlos said when the company made the move, it did so in violation of an agreement with drivers that it would either give them 30 days notice, or pay in lieu.

He estimates he’s lost between $2,400 to $3,000 he would have made this month while pulling 60-hour-a-week shifts. That’s after he said the company cut rates for drivers from a guaranteed $20 per hour back in October to an estimated $11 per hour.

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“I learned form a friend. She said, ‘Did you know you’re not working today?’ I said, ‘No I’m about to go to work.’ I was just changing,” he told Global News.

“That’s a lot of money that I can’t just walk away from.”

READ MORE: Taking Kater for a test drive: What it’s like to use B.C.’s first ridesharing service

BC Liberal transportation critic Jas Johal said Carlos’ case is an example of government failure on the ridesharing file.

“From the very start, this company, this particular product, which was re-wrapped taxis posing as ridesharing, should never have been approved by the NDP,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate what’s happened to these workers, and I hope they can be compensated for losing their jobs essentially.”

Click to play video 'Tri-Cities establishes one ride-sharing licence' Tri-Cities establishes one ride-sharing licence
Tri-Cities establishes one ride-sharing licence – Nov 27, 2019

Johal said the province has already missed the boat on rolling out ridesharing for Christmas party season, and it’s unknown if it will hit the road by New Year’s.

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Kater and the Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA), which supported the company, did not return Global News’ request for comment.

The company has been operating on Vancouver roads on a pilot basis since the spring, due to a loophole in B.C.’s transportation laws that only allowed licenced taxis to transport customers.

Kater cars obtained permits through the VTA, and were operated by licenced taxi drivers who collected taxi rates.

READ MORE: Ridesharing app Kater offering big bonuses for new drivers as it struggles to launch

The company, along with other ridesharing platforms such as Uber and Lyft, applied to the Passenger Transportation Board back in September to operate under the province’s new ridesharing regime.

Its application included plans to operate province-wide.

Kater CEO Scott Larson told Global News in late November the company plans to roll out its full ridesharing services within two weeks of being approved.

It still remains unclear when the PTB will issue its first ridesharing licence.

β€” With files from Sean Boynton