Uber launches legal action against Surrey over city’s plan to fine drivers

Click to play video 'Province’s response to Surrey mayor’s promise to block ride-hailing' Province’s response to Surrey mayor’s promise to block ride-hailing
WATCH Province's response to Surrey mayor's promise to block ride-hailing – Jan 28, 2020

Uber is taking the City of Surrey to court.

Surrey mayor Doug McCallum confirmed at a Monday press conference that city bylaw officers had been out over the weekend handing out warnings to Uber drivers active in his city without a municipal business licence.

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Eighteen such warnings were handed out to drivers, along with $500 fines to Uber itself.

“Uber, and drivers on the Uber app, have all the provincial permits and licences required to operate legally in Metro Vancouver. It is highly unfortunate that the mayor is threatening drivers with fines that have no legal basis,” reads a statement from Uber.

READ MORE: Surrey, B.C. mayor doubles down on Uber crackdown, says company ‘operating illegally’

The provincial government has been clear from the beginning that municipalities to do not have the legal right to block ride-hailing companies from operating.

But Transportation Minister Claire Trevena told Global News the province has limited powers to enforce the rules requiring municipalities to allow companies to operate.

“If companies feel that they are being blocked by a municipality there are legal actions available to question whether that municipality is acting within the law,” Trevena said.

“I think the municipalities are aware there is a huge appetite for ride-hailing.”

Click to play video 'Vancouver Taxi Association files new lawsuit against Passenger Transportation Board' Vancouver Taxi Association files new lawsuit against Passenger Transportation Board
Vancouver Taxi Association files new lawsuit against Passenger Transportation Board – Jan 28, 2020

McCallum said ride-hailing companies can apply for the same business licences as taxis, but when questioned about whether the city would actually grant any, he said no.

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He said the current system of regulation, which does not put a cap on ride-hailing fleet sizes and includes larger zones of operation than taxis, is unfair.

The BC Liberals say that the NDP needs to ensure these companies can operate.

Click to play video 'Surrey’s mayor still promising to crack down on ride-hailing operators' Surrey’s mayor still promising to crack down on ride-hailing operators
Surrey’s mayor still promising to crack down on ride-hailing operators – Jan 27, 2020

“We have drivers being threatened that they are going to be fined. What does that do. It leaves passengers out in the cold,” said Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux.

“The law is clear and we have the province not choosing to have that enforced.”

Trevena says the government has also established a working group to look at pay issues and business licence issues.

The group will include Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson and Minister of Labour Harry Bains.

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“These are questions we will be discussing. We feel confident we have put the framework in place for ride hailing to operate,” Trevena said.

Click to play video 'B.C. transportation minister ‘frustrated’ by ridesharing delay in B.C.' B.C. transportation minister ‘frustrated’ by ridesharing delay in B.C.
B.C. transportation minister ‘frustrated’ by ridesharing delay in B.C – Jan 23, 2020

Trevena says she spoke to McCallum on Monday and reiterated the municipality cannot stand in the way of ride-hailing.

The issue is also putting an increased focus on the six NDP MLAs from Surrey.

The group is being quiet on what they think of ride-hailing giant Uber operating in their community.

After multiple requests to the NDP caucus for a response on what Harry Bains, Bruce Ralston, Jinny Sims, Jagrup Brar, Rachna Singh and Garry Begg think of Uber, a statement from Begg was provided.

“While the BC Liberals called for complete deregulation, our government worked on a responsible approach to bringing in ride hailing to B.C. alongside a taxi industry that provides important jobs,” said Begg’s statement.

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“That approach included the Class 4 licence requirement and vulnerable sector checks, the same safety measures required by taxi drivers,” he added.

“We were under constant pressure to eliminate those safety measures, but our government refused to back down. As a result, B.C. now has the strictest regulations and highest safety standards in North America.”

READ MORE: Bylaw officers told to crack down on Uber: Surrey city councillor

But the statement does not answer whether the MLAs support Uber. Surrey has long been an election battleground and many taxi drivers live in the city.

During the 2017 election campaign during a debate on Channel Punjabi Brar criticized the Liberals’ plan to bring ride hailing to B.C. Brar was running against former minister Peter Fassbender who was part of building the previous government’s ride hailing plan.

“Mr. Fassbender, you are representing the interests of Uber, an American based company. That is what you have been doing for the last two years. You have not been listening to a lot of people here in the taxi industry,” Brar said.

“They are based in America.”