Delays stall expansion in B.C. ride-sharing ventures

Ride-sharing uncertainty forces local entrepreneurs to focus on different markets

Erete co-founder Shreyans Jain. His company takes a 15% cut of the limos it books | Rob Kruyt

An election campaign promise to bring ride-hailing services to B.C. by year’s end is taking a back seat to taxi-industry consultations.

The province’s new BC NDP government announced in October that it would seek a “made-in-B.C. solution” for services like Uber and Lyft, which have hit the taxi industry hard in other jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, local entrepreneurs have been pecking away at transportation alternatives that function within the regulations, but the slow movement of government has put off expansion within B.C.

Vancouver-based online limo-booking service Erete launched in September as part of an effort to modernize a “very old-fashioned” industry, according to co-founder Anmol Gupta.

The company’s mobile app allows clients to compare prices and vehicles instead of calling providers individually for those details.

“The problem with Uber in Vancouver was that it was setting its own prices, and it was setting prices below the Passenger Transportation Board regulations,” Gupta told Business in Vancouver.

“What we’re doing is we’re allowing limousine vendors to set their own [regulated] pricing. We’re just explaining those prices … to our clients.”

The company takes a 15% cut of limos booked through Erete, which co-founder Shreyans Jain said hasn’t caused problems with providers who are happy to pass on processing fees to a third party.

He called the government’s delay on bringing ride-hailing regulations “unfortunate” for consumers, but he does not believe this will negatively affect Erete.

The company books only providers already licensed through the Passenger Transportation Board and targets groups that have more passengers than a typical Uber or Lyft driver could accommodate.

“We have to recognize the fact that the technology is not substituting the industry; rather, it will allow all stakeholders to do more,” Jain said.

But uncertainty over ride-hailing technology has forced at least one other provider to hit the pause button on operations.

In the spring of 2016, the Passenger Transportation Board awarded Vancouver-based Ripe Rides 20 licences to operate mid-level luxury cars in the city of Vancouver.

Like Uber, Ripe Rides was offering GPS tracking of hired vehicles, driver ratings and digital dispatching through an app, although the pricing was set by Passenger Transportation Board regulations.

In December 2016, the company applied for 150 multi-city taxi licences but put its operations on hold in March.

“Earlier this month, the Government of B.C. announced plans to pave the way for ride sharing by the end of 2017,” the company stated on its website.

“To get ready for this new era of ride sharing, we are taking the next few months to evaluate, restructure and transition our team and business to operate in a new and different market environment.”

The company has yet to resume services.

“Right now it is just not a competitive environment for a company like ours that is trying to bridge the technology gap into transportation,” said Nitesh Mistry, Ripe Rides’ director of business operations.

While the province pursues a made-in-B.C. solution, Mistry said his company has already “solved half that puzzle” on the technology side.

“We just need the rules and regs to follow suit. We feel like we can be that made-in-B.C. solution.”

Mistry added that his company is prepared to resume operations if and when legislation comes into effect.

Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Flok Technologies has developed ride-sharing services but is bypassing the B.C. market to focus on other jurisdictions.

Flok connects drivers and passengers travelling to the same events, like concerts or festivals. It’s avoided the wrath of regulators since drivers don’t make direct profits from the trip. Instead, passengers contribute to travel costs.

Since its launch more than a year ago, the company has partnered with two B.C. music festivals to offer concertgoers long-distance ride-sharing services.

Flok CEO Clio de la Llave said the company has mainly focused on California, where the weather is more suitable for music fests year-round.

“We haven’t been focused on the B.C. market anymore,” de la Llave said.

“Because we don’t have services like Uber and Lyft, it’s still a bit of a foreign concept even though a lot of people up here know it and are familiar. But it just seems like there’s that additional [barrier to entry] to get people to use a system like ours.”