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Kelowna mayor “very disappointed” no Uber ride-hailing service in Okanagan this summer

Click to play video: 'Uber delay frustration' Uber delay frustration
As COVID restrictions lift and people feel more comfortable with leaving their neighbourhood bubble, ride-hailing companies are seeing an uptick in demand. Uber rolled out its services deep in the Fraser Valley today and as Jennifer Palma reports, drivers are now picking up in Abbotsford, Aldergrove and Langley. – Jun 18, 2021

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.

Read more: Uber seeks approval to expand into Victoria, Kelowna

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.

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“The Investigator will provide a report to the board regarding whether there is a public need for the service proposed … and whether the [application] may have any potential impacts on sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation industry given the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the B.C. economy more broadly,” the board wrote in its decision.
Click to play video: 'Okanagan cab companies unite in hopes of convincing decision makers to make sure regulations are the same for both the taxi and ridesharing industries' Okanagan cab companies unite in hopes of convincing decision makers to make sure regulations are the same for both the taxi and ridesharing industries
Okanagan cab companies unite in hopes of convincing decision makers to make sure regulations are the same for both the taxi and ridesharing industries – Aug 6, 2019

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.”

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Read more: Online petition started in ongoing lockout between Kelowna taxi company, employees

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.

Click to play video: 'OGO Scooter launches rideshare program in Kelowna' OGO Scooter launches rideshare program in Kelowna
OGO Scooter launches rideshare program in Kelowna – Jul 12, 2019

“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.”

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Read more: B.C. court turfs taxi companies’ bid to quash Uber, Lyft licences

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.

Click to play video: 'Uber attracts interest in Kelowna' Uber attracts interest in Kelowna
Uber attracts interest in Kelowna – Apr 12, 2016

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.”

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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.

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