The provincial government says ride-sharing services like Uber will be active in B.C. by December of 2017.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone and TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender made the “made in B.C.” announcement at a news conference in downtown Vancouver.
Stone says the province is first unveiling a suite of changes to the taxi industry to prepare for the new services.
“We are announcing our intentions to move forward with a number of improvements that will help taxi industry to modernize and stay competitive in anticipation of ride-sharing services being available to British Columbians in December of 2017.”
LISTEN: Peter Fassbender talks about introducing ride-sharing in Vancouver
Stone says the changes come after extensive consultation with stakeholders including local governments, the insurance industry, ride-sharing and taxi companies, and consumer groups.
“The need to address the public’s desire for choice, convenience, and competition. The need to protect passenger and driver safety. The need to balance the interests of all stakeholders, against recognizing the desire of British Columbians to embrace technology, all the while recognize and celebrate the investments and the jobs that have been created by the many people currently providing passenger transportation in our province.”
Uber Canada released a statement in reaction to the news, calling it a “step forward,” and urging all stakeholders to work towards having regulations in place by year’s end.
Last week, the province confirmed it would have an answer on the ride-sharing industry before the May 9 vote.
That same week, Uber posted a job ad for a “driver onboarding specialist,” a key hiring position within the organization who would bring on new drivers and train them.
Taxi industry changes
The package the province is pitching includes some big changes to the taxi market.
One of the biggest changes: An end to the rationing of taxi licenses.
“There will be no limitation on taxi licenses,” says Fassbender. “We’ll be working with local governments as we move forward to ensure it is an open and competitive market, and that they have the opportunity to be able to add additional vehicles if that business decision is one they wish to make.”
Taxis will also be able to pick up and drop off customers anywhere, regardless of municipal boundaries, and will have the exclusive right to street hailing.
The province will also put $1-million into helping create an app that allows the taxi sector to share dispatching and allow customers to hail a ride and pay for it in a similar fashion to ride-sharing.
It’s also putting up $3.5 million to install crash-avoidance technology in taxis, and working to streamline their insurance claims process, both of which it says will make the industry more competitive.
In order to create a level playing field for all drivers, the class four drivers’ license will be phased out for taxis and all drivers for both types of service will need to meet the same standards.
That includes an unrestricted driver’s license, a criminal record check, a safe driving record check, and regular vehicle mechanical inspections.
The province says it will also ensure “appropriate safeguards are in place to protect consumers through fair and transparent pricing,” however didn’t elaborate on what that would look like.
Fassbender says ICBC has also been closely working with the province and industry to develop a new insurance regime that would apply to both taxis and ride-share drivers.
“The new process that will be put in place will ensure as level a playing field as possible between ride-sharing companies and the taxi industry in the insurance that they will require to assure consumers that they are covered when they get into any vehicle, whether it is a ride-sharing vehicle, and existing taxi, or any other options with limousines and so on.”
While many Vancouverites took to social media to celebrate the move, at city hall the official reaction wasn’t so jubilant.
Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs says he isn’t buying into the government’s framing of today’s ride-sharing announcement as creating a “level playing field for BC’s taxi industry.”
Meggs says the provincial government missed an opportunity to “get the best of both worlds ” despite the government using the same line on incorporating technology and being fair to cabbies.
“This announcement was called investing in the taxi industry, it’s actually wiping out taxi industry investment to make it possible for this corporation and others to come in and skim a lot of money out of our marketplace.”
Meggs says his primary concerns are around surge pricings and reports over rider safety.