The mayor of the Okanagan’s largest city said he is “very disappointed” the Passenger Transportation Board has delayed a decision to allow Uber to operate in the Okanagan.
“I don’t understand the reason for the delay,” said Kelowna mayor Colin Basran.
“We know that people in our community would like more choice when it comes to getting around and I think it’s disappointing for a lot of people.”
In a preliminary decision dated April 20, the transportation board (PTB) adjourned Uber’s application to expand operations province-wide, including the Okanagan and Kootenays plus the Boundary, Cariboo, North Central, Vancouver Island and Capital Regional District areas of B.C.
The board, which is an independent tribunal, said it needs another 3-6 months to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the passenger transportation industry.
Uber, the world’s largest ridesharing company, originally submitted its application to expand service on August 31, 2020.
Basran said British Columbians are expected to flock to the Okanagan, as B.C. lifted its interprovincial travel ban on Tuesday, and tourists will be left with limited transportation options.
“We know that it’s going to be very busy here this summer,” he said.
“The potential is there for us to have the busiest tourism season we’ve ever had. I think Kelowna is going to be the destination of choice, not only for western Canada, but I think the entire country, so we are going to need more mobility options.”
Ryan Donn, a Kelowna city councillor who has long been a proponent of ride-sharing, called the study a “waste of time.”
“There really is no reason for extra delays. We are now five years behind most major urban centres in the world to get ride-share,” Donn said.
“Uber is a brand that people know when they hop off at our international airport. They can open the app that they know and reach an internationally known ride system, and yet they can’t,” he said.
Donn called the absence of Uber in Kelowna embarrassing and frustrating.
“It feels just like a political delay,” he said. “COVID does not affect the need for transportation.”
The B.C. taxi industry has lobbied against the arrival of Uber in B.C., and several taxi companies — Checkmate Cabs, Kami Cabs, Kelowna Cabs and Penticton Klassic Kabs — submitted letters opposing the expansion of the ride-sharing company to the Okanagan.
They claimed that allowing Uber to expand during the health crisis is “not in the public interest.”
“I understand why the taxi industry is apprehensive or, in some cases, opposed. But at the end of the day, it’s a service that people want and industries have to adapt and change,” Basran said.
In an email to Global News, Uber said “there is strong demand from Okanagan residents and visitors for ridesharing services. As British Columbia’s Restart Plan moves forward, we are ready to launch Uber’s ridesharing app in Kelowna, offering flexible earning opportunities for drivers and convenient, reliable travel options for the community.”
In its submission, Uber urged the board not to delay the expansion of its services, because the COVID-19 investigation would be “moot” by the time it is released.
Donn said in wake of the PTB’s decision, he’s hoping to see Uber ride-sharing services up and running in the Okanagan by Christmas.
The company has offered rides in Metro Vancouver since January 2020, after a long fight with the provincial government.