COLUMN: Time to pave the way for ride-hailing in B.C.

COLUMN: Time to pave the way for ride-hailing in B.C.

Cities should not be blocking ride-hailing, they should be embracing it. This is even more necessary in cities like Surrey with inadequate public transportation.

Surrey Board of Trade has recently clarified comments made by Transportation Minister Clare Trevena when she addressed the business group in January. Trevena said that ride-hailing will be managed through provincial regulation, and cities “will have to work though” that model.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has indicated he opposes ride-hailing. It is not a subject he has spent a lot time talking about, given his major focus on a SkyTrain extension and a Surrey Police force, but that is his position.

Trevena said that the Passenger Transportation Board has sole jurisdiction over ride-hailing in municipalities, preventing bylaws from being drafted to the contrary. Municipalities will, however, be able to regulate ride-hailing and limit where drivers can stop or if the drivers can use HOV lanes.

There was a potent reminder of the folly of B.C.’s lengthy resistance to ride-hailing during the final NBA championship game Thursday – a game in which the Toronto Raptors brought the championship to Canada for the first time. On the television broadcast, there were ads from Uber Eats, “an official partner of the Raptors.”

Uber Eats does operate in B.C. in a limited way, and competes with many other food delivery services. Given the lack of other Uber services, it does not have a high profile.

Here is what Uber’s website has to say about its service in B.C. – “Providing rides with Uber is currently not an option in British Columbia. However, you can still sign up for Uber Eats. To sign up to be an Uber Eats partner, you have the option of delivering by bicycle or by car.

“If you are interested in speeding up the process to bring ridesharing to British Columbia, please contact your local MLA.”

The B.C. government says ride-hailing will be in place by this fall, although it has a very restrictive approach to the issue. Notably, it says that ride-hailing drivers will have to have Class 4 drivers’ licences – the same requirement that taxi drivers must have. This is widely expected to severely restrict the number of ride-hailing drivers. This, of course, is the goal of the politically powerful taxi industry, which has fought ride-hailing tooth-and-nail in many parts of the world. Nowhere has it had more success than in B.C., where both the BC Liberal and NDP governments have dragged their feet on ride-hailing.

It is partly for those reasons that the board of trade brought up the issue again. CEO Anita Huberman said the organization wants to see ride-hailing proceed as soon as possible. It also wants to see ride-hailing drivers take on the work with Class 5 licences, and not have to obtain Class 4 licences.

Surrey residents will use these services extensively when they are finally in place. While taxi service in Surrey is generally good, taxis are not always available quickly. The number of taxis in Surrey has not kept pace with population growth.

There are limited options for people wanting to get from A to B in Surrey. Transit service here often involves huge delays, and some areas of Surrey have no transit service at all.

While taxis are a welcome option, adding ride-hailing to the mix simply makes sense.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com