‘Not here to defend the current situation’ says taxi spokesperson, but argues industry can reform itself

The Uber app is displayed on an iPhone as taxi drivers wait for passengers at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The B.C. Taxi Association says it has found an app to meet customer demands across the province, making the need for ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft unnecessary.

But an Uber spokesman said Monday hundreds of thousands of people in B.C. have already accessed their app in the search for reliable and affordable services.

The association and Uber are among numerous industry representatives and experts who are appearing before an all-party legislature committee this week in Vancouver on the future of ride-hailing services in the province.

Carolyn Bauer of the Vancouver Taxi Association said ride-hailing services could “destroy” the taxi industry and put drivers out of work.

“We’re not here to defend the current situation. We know that the needs of the public are not being met and that frequently, people are waiting far too long for taxi service, and we need improved access and a payment system based on the latest and best technologies to provide the public with the taxi service it rightfully is demanding and deserves,” she said.

“But the solution here is not to allow anyone with a car or an app to enter the taxi market. That will destroy the existing taxi industry and, as a result, have other harmful consequences contrary to public interest.”

She told the committee a single ride-hailing app that allows people to book rides should be approved by the government. The association is endorsing an app called Kater, developed in B.C., that would be used by taxi companies.

“This made-in-B.C. solution avoids all the problems that have accompanied a deregulated industry,” Bauer said, adding that a single app would also prevent the oversupply of taxis.

‘Non-starter’

But Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, whose party holds the balance of power in the legislature, dismissed the proposal out of hand.

“The winner and loser has already been picked … what’s critical in any free market is there’s competition, and there’s no competition in this model,” he said, calling Kater a “non-starter.”

Michael van Hemmen, public policy manager with Uber Canada, told the committee there is huge demand for reliable and affordable ride hailing.

“Since 2015, over half a million residents and tourists have downloaded or opened the app here in British Columbia,” he said.

The company wants the province to implement regulations similar to those previously proposed by Weaver in the legislature that would allow ride hailing to operate in B.C.

“A provincial framework is key because there is no reason there should be different safety rules or restrictions in each of the 20-plus municipalities across Metro Vancouver or dozen municipalities in the capital (Victoria) region,” van Hemmen said.

Taxis and ride hailing have managed to co-exist in other markets, van Hemmen said, and the service could come to B.C. if regulatory changes are made to insurance policies, drivers licence requirements and vehicle inspection standards.

“Ride hailing won’t happen unless there is a workable insurance product,” he said.

New insurance system

The company wants an insurance system that would allow personal vehicles to be insured as commercial vehicles only for the duration — measured by distance — that a ride is being provided.

Drivers would only need a standard licence, rather than a commercial-class licence, to provide rides and the rigour of vehicle inspections should reflect the occasional nature of ride hailing, van Hemmen said.

The B.C. Taxi Association said if ride-hailing services are allowed to operate, they need to be held to the same regulatory standards as taxi companies. Kang said there should also be a standardized base rate to create a fair playing field for all operators.

Representatives from the ride-hailing service Lyft are also scheduled to make their case to the committee. The hearings will continue through Wednesday and a report is expected to be released next month.

Legislation on ride-hailing is expected by the end of 2018.

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