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Burnaby urges Uber to pick up business licences or it could start issuing fines, too

The Uber app is pictured on a smartphone in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, Dec. 30, 2019.
The Uber app is pictured on a smartphone in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Burnaby’s mayor is taking a less aggressive approach than his Surrey counterpart but says the city’s message to Uber is the same: pick up a business licence or drivers could be fined.

The ride-hailing company is currently engaged in a legal battle with Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who has ordered bylaw officers to fine drivers despite not making business licences available to Uber or Lyft.

While Burnaby does have business licences available for ride-hailing companies, Mayor Mike Hurley says that so far Uber hasn’t applied for one — despite already operating in the city.

B.C. premier tells Surrey to back down in ride-hailing fight
B.C. premier tells Surrey to back down in ride-hailing fight
“I strongly recommended that [Uber] come in and talk to our licensing department to try and sort this out because if they’re operating within our city against our bylaws, at some point they’re going to back us into a corner,” he said.
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That could lead to issuing fines, Hurley said, adding: “We hope not to get to that point.”

“Burnaby is open for business,” he said. “It’s just a matter of Uber or anyone else applying for the licences.”

READ MORE: Uber driver fined in Surrey says bylaw officers apologized, told him ‘the mayor is forcing us’

Burnaby’s licence requirements for ride-hailing companies are the costliest in Metro Vancouver, with a $510 fee per vehicle that the city says is on par with taxi licences. Comparatively, Vancouver’s per-vehicle fee is $100.

The company’s head of Western Canada, Michael van Hemmen, said at a news conference on Wednesday that it “continues to have conversations” with Burnaby and other municipalities.

He added that Uber is waiting to apply for a regional ride-hailing licence for all of Metro Vancouver when it is available.

Lawyer weighs in on battle over ride-hailing in Surrey
Lawyer weighs in on battle over ride-hailing in Surrey

The TransLink Mayors’ Council greenlighted the regional licence and will hear an update on the framework at its meeting on Thursday. Councils could begin voting to adopt the licence as early as February, according to the council.

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Other municipalities in the region like North Vancouver and New Westminster, which also do not have business licence regulations in place for ride-hailing, have said they will look the other way and allow Uber and Lyft to operate until the regional licence is created.

READ MORE: B.C. Premier John Horgan tells Surrey mayor to back down in feud with Uber

Both Hurley and Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal say companies should still apply at the local level during the interim period and wait for approvals before operating.

“It’s not appropriate for any business, regardless of whether they’re taxis or another business, to be operating in the city of Burnaby without a proper licence,” Dhaliwal said.

Province’s response to Surrey mayor’s promise to block ride-hailing
Province’s response to Surrey mayor’s promise to block ride-hailing

Uber has filed an injunction against the City of Surrey seeking to prevent bylaw officers from issuing what the company calls “illegal tickets.” Van Hemmen said tickets issued in any other municipality would also be considered illegal by the company.

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For its part, Lyft is sticking to operating only in areas where it’s licensed, which are Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport in Richmond. The company says it will wait for the regional licence before expanding its service.

Accessibility concerns

The regional licence could lose support from Burnaby if it does not address what Hurley and Dhaliwal say should be a requirement for Uber and Lyft to provide accessible vehicles for people with disabilities.

The province approved Uber and Lyft without that requirement, only adding a 30-cent accessibility fee per trip for rides in non-accessible vehicles, which will be earmarked for accessibility programs.

READ MORE: Disabled passengers left feeling like ‘pawns’ in B.C. taxi vs. ride-hailing war

The Vancouver Taxi Association said Monday that it will pull subsidies for drivers of accessible vehicles until the province addresses the issue and others that the association says contribute to an uneven playing field between taxis and ride-hailing services.

Dhaliwal says the city intends to fight for accessible vehicles to be required as part of the regional licence. But Hurley says he’s heard from city staff helping to draw up the framework that the issue has not yet been addressed.

“We really feel strongly that that’s something that needs to be addressed to have success moving forward so that those most [in] need in our city can be sure that someone’s coming [to pick them up],” the mayor said.
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Vancouver Taxi Association to stop subsidizing accessible vehicles over ride-hailing controversy
Vancouver Taxi Association to stop subsidizing accessible vehicles over ride-hailing controversy

Van Hemmen said Uber has asked the province to access the 30-cent accessibility fund to fund wheelchair-accessible service and is waiting for the province to respond.

He added that because the app relies on drivers using their personal vehicles, “many aren’t wheelchair accessible.”

Hurley said he plans to bring up the issue at Thursday’s Mayors’ Council meeting.