Uber seeks B.C.-wide licence, hopes for Victoria, Kelowna holiday launch

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

Ridesharing giant Uber is seeking to acquire a licence that would permit it to operate B.C.-wide, but is focusing its efforts on an attempt to launch in Kelowna and Victoria by the holiday season.

Rather than seeking an expanded licence to operate in the cities, the company is seeking approval from the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) to acquire the licence of an existing rideshare company.

That licence would allow it to operate in Regions 2, 3, 4 and 5 — The Capital Regional District, the rest of Vancouver Island, the Okanagan-Kootenay-Boundary-Cariboo regions and the North Central and Other Regions.

“For now, we’re focused on Victoria and Kelowna but understand there is demand for safe, reliable, and affordable transportation services across the province,” spokesperson Keerthana Rang said in an email.

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Uber would not say who it was seeking the licence transfer from, and Rang said the information would be publicly available in the PTB’s next weekly bulletin on Sept. 7.

The PTB denied Uber’s last request for an expanded licence to serve Vancouver Island, the Interior and North in December 2021.

In its decision, the board said it was satisfied Uber was “fit, proper and capable of providing the proposed service,” but it wasn’t convinced of the public need for it. It also ruled the expansion could hurt existing taxi and rideshare companies that were still recovering from the pandemic.

In order to win approval of a licence transfer, rather than an expansion, Uber said it only needs to demonstrate it is fit, proper and capable of providing the service — which it has already done.

“Thousands of residents and visitors” are “constantly” opening the Uber app in Victoria and Kelowna, suggesting high demand, it said in a Wednesday news release, adding that would-be drivers in the communities are already lined up.

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Uber is also touting support from the two cities’ mayors and several business groups.

“The City of Victoria welcomes additional transportation options that help connect people and businesses to our community,” reads a statement from Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in the company’s media release.

“We’ve heard from local businesses, entrepreneurs and our hospitality industry that there is an immediate demand for these services.”

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Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran called the service’s arrival in his city “long overdue.”

“We encourage the PTB to finally approve this application,” he said in a statement.

“We embrace providing diverse transportation options for both residents and visitors, with the goal of reducing both car dependency and the need for parking, while increasing mobility options.”

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Uber launched in B.C. in January 2020, with permission to operate in the Lower Mainland and Whistler.

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