B.C. promises ride-hailing insurance products by fall 2019

Province remains cagey on when British Columbians can expect to begin using services like Uber and Lyft

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British Columbians hoping for a firm date on when Uber and Lyft can offer rides in the province will have to keep waiting.

Legislation tabled November 19 in the provincial legislature pushes ICBC to have insurance products ready for ride-hailing services by fall 2019.

But it’s unclear when exactly the actual ride-hailing services will appear on B.C. roads.

“We are limited by insurance. Nobody’s going to be on the road until there is an insurance product that works for them,” B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena told reporters after introducing the legislation.

“As soon as ICBC gets that product in place, we’ll be able to move on that and then it’s a part of how quickly PTB [Passenger Transportation Board] can move.”

Trevena would not commit to a specific date she believes ride-hailing services will be available to British Columbians — only that insurance products for ride-hailing companies should be available in about a year’s time.

“We are working as quickly as we can. We were left with problems at ICBC,” Trevena said.

Companies like Uber may currently apply to the PTB for approval on B.C. roads, however, without any corresponding insurance products for these services the regulator would no doubt deny the applications.

If the new transportation legislation is passed and ICBC develops insurance products for ride-hailing, the government expects the PTB to start accepting applications by fall 2019.

It’s unknown how long it will take the PTB to approve any applications but the government said the legislation should allow ride-hailing companies to enter the B.C. market next year.

“The Surrey Board of Trade [SBOT] wants to have ride-hailing services operational now instead of waiting until the fall 2019. Why do we need to wait so long?” Anita Huberman, CEO of the SBOT, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Federation of Labour said it does not believe the legislation goes far enough to protect transportation workers.

“Ride-hailing enterprises like Uber helped invent the gig economy, where jobs are designed to be precarious, unstable, and mostly low-paying. Workers need a level playing field and more clout to deal with rich and powerful companies,” B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger said in a statement.

“[The] proposed legislation should have included measures to modernize outdated employment laws that give employers too much power and employees too few rights.”

Access to B.C. drivers may be somewhat of a challenge for ride-hailing companies.

The provincial legislation requires that drivers possess a Class 4 commercial licence, instead of the more common Class 5 licence recommended by industry consultant Dan Hara in a report commissioned by the province and released last July.

About 15% of British Columbians possess a Class 4 licence, which requires them to undergo medical exams and background checks for approval.

“If you’re going to be earning money through driving people from place to place, you need to make that investment, get your Class 4 licence so that you can show that you are safe,” Trevena said.

The transportation minister was unable to offer any clarity on how much British Columbians can expect to pay for ride-hailing service.

She said those decisions on fares and surge-pricing — one of the hallmarks of ride-hailing services — would be up to the PTB.

The legislation also marks a notable shift in power from municipalities to the provincial regulator.

The PTB will have more power to determine vehicle supply and operating areas in order to avoid passengers being stranded when travelling between municipalities.

torton@biv.com

@reporton