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‘We’re racing to get drivers’: B.C.’s first ride-hailing app may launch in time for New Year’s

Tofino company wins BC’s first ride-hailing license.
Kristen Robinson has a look at how Whistle! managed to beat Uber and Lyft to the road, and why it's not worried about finding enough Class 4 drivers.

As Metro Vancouver continues to wait, Tofino-based entrepreneur Dylan Green is planning to launch a fleet of rideshare vehicles in the tourist destination after beating Uber and Lyft in the race to get the province’s first ridesharing licence.

On Dec. 16, The Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) announced it had approved Green Coast Ventures Inc.’s application to operate the Whistle! ride-hailing app in the Lower Mainland and Whistler as well as on Vancouver Island, excluding the Capital Regional District (CRD).

“We’re the first licensed ride-hailing company in B.C. We want to make sure were the first ones to actually do a real ride,” said Green, the company principal.

“We’re racing to get drivers.”

READ MORE: First rideshare company approved to operate in B.C., Lyft and Uber still waiting for decision

Green says he wants to get the first four vehicles: a hybrid hatchback, family-sized SUV, luxury sedan and high-end SUV on the road right away, and he’s working with existing Class 4 drivers to get criminal record checks done and insurance details finalized.

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But the driving force behind the Whistle! app is also inviting locals in resort communities to join the team as casual drivers to help solve transportation demands during peak times.

B.C. ride-hailing labour fight
B.C. ride-hailing labour fight

“I really believe that using locals with their own cars to move people is really what’s going to answer all the transportation demands we’ve had,” Green told Global News.

Whistle! is hiring for full-time, part-time and contract jobs. The company will offer potential drivers training to meet Class 4 licence standards and has partnered with License to Drive to offer free workshops to prep people on how to qualify for ride-hailing driving opportunities.

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

The first workshop was held on Dec. 19 at Whistler Secondary School, where the company plans to hold a ‘Whistle! Job Fair’ on Jan. 9, 2020.

“With ride-hailing, anything’s possible,” said Green.

As a student in 2002, Green founded Tofino Bus with one passenger van and grew the fleet to more than 30 vehicles, transforming the company into the largest provider of inter-city bus services in B.C., before he sold it in 2018.

First rideshare company approved to operate in B.C.
First rideshare company approved to operate in B.C.

In his 16 years in the transportation industry, Green learned about demand and says he believes that translated into a successful rideshare application.

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“I just used my experience to focus on the benefits of ride-hailing.”

With approximately 2000 permanent residents, Tofino’s population swells in the summer months as the resort municipality attracts tourists from around the world – creating transportation problems similar to what large city centres face.

READ MORE: Uber sexual assault report prompts concerns over ridesharing in B.C. But are taxis any safer?

The district’s mayor believes ridesharing will be an effective way for people to get around, and an opportunity to give locals part-time employment.

“It’s going to fill in some of the holes that we experience here, especially in the busy summer season,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne.

“We’ve got hundreds of thousands of visitors and people needing to get around efficiently.”

Kater drivers say they’ve been shafted by cab industry
Kater drivers say they’ve been shafted by cab industry

Visitors to Canada’s surfing mecca have long been demanding ridesharing.

The PTB decision notes that the owner of the Wolf in the Fog restaurant gets about 30 ridesharing requests per day while the Wickaninnish Inn receives an estimated 25 daily requests during the busy season.

READ MORE: B.C. will still see Uber and Lyft hit the roads by Christmas, premier vows

“Ride-hailing was overdue 23 years ago when we built the inn,” said Wickaninnish managing director Charles McDiarmid.

Since then, McDiarmid says the demand has only grown, in part due to Pacific Coastal Airlines offering a daily direct flight from Vancouver to Tofino on a 19 seat aircraft.

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Uber and Lyft drivers: employees or independent contractors?
Uber and Lyft drivers: employees or independent contractors?

“There are a lot more people flying in to Tofino not all of whom want to rent a car,” said McDiarmid.

“It is absolutely critical to provide transportation options not just for our visitors but we have so many staff today that do not have vehicles.”

Green says the app will give passengers the option for ride pooling so locals can share a trip for a more affordable price.

“We’re aiming at pooled rides of two groups of two,” said Green.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver green-lights single, regional ride-hailing licence

In its first year, Whistle! will focus on Tofino, Ucluelet, Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish with a fleet size goal of 15 vehicles on Vancouver Island and 30 on the mainland.

Green says the app has been published and he’s now awaiting approval that it’s circulating on the App Store and Google Play.

“It would be amazing if we could make this happen for New Year’s,” he said. “That is the busiest day of the year, we really want to be there to help out.”

But Green admits that Whistle! will more likely go live in early 2020.