The B.C. government is offering some gifts to taxi drivers in an effort to smooth over their conflict with ride-hailing companies.
The Ministry of Transportation announced Thursday that ICBC will soon offer a new insurance option that will be based on per-kilometre distance travelled with passengers.
The coverage, which will begin in the spring, is equal to the lower insurance rate currently offered to ride-hailing vehicles. Taxi drivers will be able to switch over “in the near future,” and those who stay with existing coverage will not be affected.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the province is also working with taxi industry representatives and disability groups to determine how to improve accessible vehicles by dipping into the fund created by the 30-cent fee added to all ride-hailing trips.
“We’ve been very clear that we want to make sure people have access to rides, no matter what level of ability you have,” Trevena said.
“People need those rides. This is the place people go to for accessible rides. It’s clear that Uber and Lyft do not have that provision, and that’s why we have this 30-cent surcharge on top of every ride so we can start funding those rides and ensure people have those rides.”
Trevena wouldn’t say whether the fee would be used to subsidize taxi drivers who have accessible vehicles, or to help taxi companies boost their accessible vehicle fleets.
“These are things we are looking at,” she said.
Uber has said because the service relies on drivers using their personal vehicles, and that very few of those vehicles are accessible, they are not always able to provide rides to people with disabilities.
The company says it has asked the province to also access that 30-cent fund to explore subsidizing wheelchair-accessible service and is waiting for the province to respond.
Carolyn Bauer with the Vancouver Taxi Association said Thursday she was “pleased” with the province’s announcement, but could not comment further as she has not yet seen the details of the new insurance option.
She said more information from the taxi industry’s perspective will be released Friday.
A coalition of nine Metro Vancouver taxi companies has taken the Passenger Transportation Board to court over their approval of Uber and Lyft to operate in the province.
Insurance and accessibility requirements are key issues mentioned in the court filing, along with a lack of a cap on ride-hailing fleets.
The Vancouver Taxi Association said Monday it will no longer subsidize drivers of accessible vehicles, which are required to be a part of any taxi company’s fleet. The province has not mandated the same requirement for ride-hailing companies.
Trevena defended the province’s approach to ride-hailing amid criticisms from both the taxi industry and Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum that the playing field for the two services is uneven.
She added with Uber and Lyft only operating in Metro Vancouver for less than a week, she predicts “many more bumps in the road” until the dispute is sorted out.
“What my job is, is to make sure that the options are available to people: people who want to use ride-hailing and people who want to use a taxi,” she said.
“We are working to make sure this a fair system for people.”