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

Ride-hailing launches in BC
After months of delay Uber and Lyft are up and running. Uber Spokesperson Michael van Hemmen explains what riders can expect from Uber - and responds to the City of Surrey's attempt to roadblock operations.

Uber says it will not follow Surrey’s request to cease operations in the city, setting up a potentially nasty fight over the future of ride-hailing.

In a statement on Saturday, the company said “we respectfully decline” the city’s notice, which explained that Uber was in violation of Surrey bylaws requiring all “vehicles for hire” to have a business licence.

The company had until 9 p.m., Friday to pull out of the city, but on Saturday morning the app was still available for passengers to request pick-ups.

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

“Uber’s service is available in Surrey today,” the Western Canada head for Uber, Michael van Hemmen, told Global News.

“The provincial government has been very clear that cities are unable to block ridesharing from operating in them. Only the Passenger Transportation Board is able to approve companies operating in jurisdictions.”

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The city’s general manager of corporate services, Rob Costanzo, explained in a statement on Friday that city council has not yet made a decision regarding how to issue licences for ride-hailing companies, and the city was asking Uber to cease operations “until a decision is made.”

Ride-hailing finally comes to Metro Vancouver
Ride-hailing finally comes to Metro Vancouver

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

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 business licences in Delta, Richmond and Vancouver, which issued their licences hours after both Uber and Lyft were approved to operate by the provincial Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) on Thursday.

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

Van Hemmen said Uber is continuing to reach out to Surrey to find a path forward.

“We look forward to partnering with Surrey, in a similar way we are trying to work with all the municipalities who are working together on the inter-municipal business licence,” he said.

“We’ve been in touch with Surrey, we’ll continue to engage with them, but right now it’s business as usual and the app is available.”

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A Global News ride-along in Lyft
A Global News ride-along in Lyft

The city has not explained how they plan to enforce their bylaws when it comes to Uber drivers. Requests for comment on Saturday have not yet been returned.

Van Hemmen said the company is working with the city to try and prevent fines from being issued to drivers, and assured those drivers will be protected.

“I think there’s just an adjustment period,” he said. “We want to engage as long-term partners with cities, and we think over time that’s going to be the case with them as well.”

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

Coun. Jack Hundial said Friday that while some bylaw officers in the city are trained to stop vehicles, it makes little sense to target Uber when other businesses are technically also in violation of city bylaws.

“We have a few hundred businesses in Surrey that don’t have business licences,” he said. “We can offer a grace period for those licences if the city chooses to do so . . . and we can also expedite some of those business licences as well.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said she was disappointed by McCallum’s position, which she said flies in the face of what the business community wants.

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

“We’re going to stay steadfast and resolute in our support for ridesharing and our need for ridesharing.” she said.

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For its part, Lyft says it is staying out of any municipality it’s not licensed in, limiting its coverage area to “the core of Vancouver,” the PNE fairgrounds and Vancouver International Airport in Richmond.

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

“We’ve taken the approach to look at every jurisdiction on a city-by-city basis,” general manager for B.C. Peter Lukomskyj said Saturday, adding the company is supporting the arrival of a regional licence for all of Metro Vancouver.

“We’re looking forward to operating in all of Metro [Vancouver] once those licences comes through.”

Burnaby has also threatened fines for drivers who operate in the city, which has yet to issue their own business licences.

However, other Metro Vancouver municipalities have said they are waiting for a region-wide business licence framework to be drawn up, and will allow Uber and Lyft to operate unlicensed until that regional permit is in place.

Uber and Lyft in Vancouver.
Uber and Lyft in Vancouver.

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

Surrey city council’s next meeting is on Monday, but ride-hailing is not on the public agenda.

In a statement, the Ministry of Transportation said while municipalities have the power to set requirements for business licences for ride-hailing companies, they cannot stop the companies from operating now that the PTB has approved Uber and Lyft.

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“The absence of a bylaw or business license in specific municipalities related to ride hailing is not grounds for refusal of the service,” the ministry said.