Ridesharing firms urge B.C. to temporarily scrap licence requirements under COVID-19

In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker in Pittsburgh. Timing and location are key for Uber and Lyft drivers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Gene J. Puskar, File

The biggest ridesharing companies operating in B.C. are calling on the province to ease the Class 4 licence requirements for drivers in a bid to get more drivers on the road.

In a letter sent to Transportation Minister Claire Trevena and obtained by Global News, the companies suggest that a Class 5+ licence could provide short-term work for those out of a job due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has resulted in too many people becoming unemployed, working reduced hours, or just needing an easy and quick way to put food on the table for their families,” reads the letter, signed by Lyft Canada, Whistle!, Uber Canada, Coastal Rides and KABU-Ride Inc.

“Working together, we can make things better for these people.”

READ MORE: Class 4 licence written test required for ridesharing drivers has no mention of ridesharing

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The Class 4 licence required to work as a ridesharing driver in B.C. has been contentious.

The all-party MLA committee tasked with setting out regulations for the industry recommended a specific Class 5+ licence catered towards such drivers.

But Trevena turned it down, opting for the existing commercial Class 4 licence and requiring an additional written and driving test and a physical exam from a doctor.

ICBC has suspended road tests indefinitely under the pandemic.

Lyft and Uber, the world’s largest ridesharing companies, have been operating since January in B.C., after receiving long-awaited approval from the independent Passenger Transportation Board.

Click to play video 'Petition seeks to kill class 4 ride-hailing requirement in B.C.' Petition seeks to kill class 4 ride-hailing requirement in B.C.
Petition seeks to kill class 4 ride-hailing requirement in B.C – Aug 9, 2019

The industry argues that an easing of the current licencing requirement can especially help women who have seen greater jobs losses because of the pandemic than men have.

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“Ridesharing can give women impacted by COVID-19 immediate opportunities to make money to support themselves and their loved ones,” the letter reads.

A Class 5+ licence could allow drivers to earn money ridesharing after they pass a Class 4 knowledge test but not a road test.

Click to play video 'NDP government’s class 4 license requirement could prevent ride-hailing' NDP government’s class 4 license requirement could prevent ride-hailing
NDP government’s class 4 license requirement could prevent ride-hailing – Mar 27, 2019

In a statement, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says government’s next step through the pandemic is a careful restart of the economy while protecting people and all the progress B.C. has made.

The province is not planning on making any changes to the licencing structure for ridesharing vehicles.

“Our Class 4 requirement for ride-hail puts passenger safety first. We specifically developed a model that has the highest safety standards in North America,” the statement reads.

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“We’re proud of the work we’ve done and we will not be rolling back any safety measures at this time. People want to know when they get in a ride-hail vehicle that they are with a driver who has a good driving record, has passed a criminal record check and medical exam, and the vehicle has been inspected.”

The five companies also suggested using the National Safety Code, which regulates commercial drivers, and allow Class 5 licence holders who have other safety requirements to be on the road so as not to put a “burden” on ICBC.

The letter also suggests increasing the vehicle age requirement to 15 years outside of urban areas to allow more drivers to qualify.

“We have demonstrated for the past almost four months that we can be relied upon to help connect drivers offering safe and healthy transportation services to essential workers,” the letter reads.

“The next phase of COVID-19 is equally as critical. Ridesharing can provide flexible earning opportunities for all British Columbians and particularly those impacted by COVID-19 job loss.”

BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal says the government’s decision to require class 4 licensing was always a political decision, and not one grounded in the needs of B.C. consumers.

Johal says he has advocated for a class 5+ since the beginning and switching now would provide additional flexibility.

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“The NDP have essentially created a system where there are not enough drivers in major cities or no service in smaller communities,”Johal said.

“Beyond ridehailing, the NDP have done nothing to modernize the taxi industry or level the playing field for many struggling taxi owners.”