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Surrey sends Uber notice to cease operations by Friday night or face bylaw fines

Ride-hailing finally comes to Metro Vancouver
After years of government delays and red tape, ride-hailing has finally come to Metro Vancouver, although not without some disappointments. Richard Zussman reports.

While most of Metro Vancouver has embraced ride-hailing with open arms since it hit the roads Friday morning, Surrey is kicking its fight against the service up a notch.

The City of Surrey has sent Uber a notice warning them to cease operations in the city by 9 p.m. Friday night or face enforcement from bylaw officers, including fines.

In a statement, the city’s general manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo said the reason was because city council has not yet made an official decision on business licences for ride-hailing companies.

“Until a decision is made on this regard, ride-hailing companies are precluded from operating within Surrey’s boundaries,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘We respectfully decline’: Uber, Lyft respond to Surrey’s efforts to halt ride-hailing

Coun. Jack Hundial told Global News he confirmed with city staff that they have sent a letter informing the company they are in violation of the city’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw by not having a business licence.

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“I have no idea how you’d even enforce something like this,” he said.

“I don’t know how any municipality could adequately enforce this. It’s going to be very resource-heavy to send out bylaw officers.”

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Ride-hailing in Vancouver: Here’s what you need to know
Ride-hailing in Vancouver: Here’s what you need to know

Uber launched Friday morning with a wide coverage area that allows service in virtually all of Metro Vancouver, including Surrey, meaning drivers can pick up passengers across municipal boundaries.

That’s despite the company only having a business licence in Vancouver, which was issued hours after both Uber and Lyft were approved to operate by the provincial Passenger Transportation Board on Thursday, and Delta, which issued theirs in 2019.

READ MORE: Ride-hailing kicks off in British Columbia: Uber, Lyft give first rides

Lyft’s coverage area only includes parts of the City of Vancouver, along with Vancouver International Airport and the PNE fairgrounds. Lyft has a licence with Richmond to operate at the airport.

Mayor Doug McCallum made clear Friday he wouldn’t support issuing business licences to Uber and Lyft drivers, citing potential job losses for taxi drivers who live in Surrey.

Coun. Brenda Locke said in an email that she believed McCallum “made a unilateral decision” to issue the letter without input from council, which has not met since ride-hailing was introduced.

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READ MORE: Ride-hailing 101: What you need to know to ride Uber and Lyft in Metro Vancouver

Hundial said he couldn’t speak to why McCallum made the decision and continues to resist ride-hailing.

“Myself, personally, I do believe [in] the ride-hailing,” he said. “I’m a user of ride-hailing in other municipalities and countries when I do travel. From a public safety perspective, I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

McCallum has not responded to multiple requests for comment about the letter.

When contacted by Global News at 7 p.m., Surrey’s bylaw office said all bylaw officers had gone home for the night.

How ride-hailing will change the face of Metro Vancouver
How ride-hailing will change the face of Metro Vancouver

The question of how ride-hailing will work in Metro Vancouver has been a point of confusion long before Uber and Lyft were approved, and has only become more acute since.

Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Delta and the Tri-Cities have licence regulations in place. Licences have been issued to one or both of the companies by Vancouver, Richmond and Delta.

Other municipalities that don’t have licence regulations, like New Westminster and the North Shore, say they are waiting for framework to be written up on a region-wide licence that would cover all of the Lower Mainland.

Because of that, they say drivers will be allowed to pick up passengers in their borders until the regional licence is introduced.

READ MORE: Uber and Lyft have arrived in Metro Vancouver, but a region-wide licence will take more time

TransLink Mayors’ Council chair Jonathan Cote said Thursday that framework could be ready for councils to adopt as soon as early February, but expects Surrey not to sign on.

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Burnaby could also see a fight over licencing and bylaws. Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said Friday drivers could be ticketed for picking up in the city without a licence.

“Our bylaw officers and the RCMP, we expect them to uphold whatever our bylaws are,” he said.

But City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan took to Twitter on Friday to say she intends to look the other way and not have staff restrict drivers.

The Ministry of Transportation has said because ride-hailing is a provincial file, municipalities cannot block companies from operating.

For its part, Uber says they’re not trying to break any laws.

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“We’ve been in touch with communities about our plans,” said Michael van Hemmen, head of Uber for Western Canada.

McCallum said Friday he would potentially look at asking for more taxi licences from the Passenger Transportation Board in order to level the playing field.