Businesses ‘bewildered’ by B.C. ride-hailing plans

Ride-hailing advocates say government must re-evaluate murky timetable for rolling out services

When Ian Tostenson found out the B.C. government was tabling legislation this week to bring ride hailing to the province, he assumed a firm arrival date would come attached.

No such date was forthcoming from B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, who would only go so far as to say fall 2019 seemed like a realistic goal.

“We’re bewildered,” Tostenson, the president and CEO of the Ridesharing Now for B.C. advocacy group, told reporters at a November 20 press conference in Vancouver.

“We’re still off in this exploratory, undefined mode.”

Tostenton, who is also president of the B.C. Food Restaurant and Food Services Association, said he could imagine it taking until 2020 before ride hailing arrives on the roads.

If passed, the legislation aims to have ICBC roll out insurance products for ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber Technology in about a year’s time.

After that it will fall on the provincial regulator, the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB), to approve any applications that come in from ride hailing companies.

Speaking to reporters about an hour after the legislation was tabled on November 19, Trevena said it now comes down to how quickly ICBC can develop insurance products and how quickly the PTB can approve applications.

All three parties sitting in the B.C. legislature committed in their platforms during the spring 2017 election campaign to introduce ride hailing by the end of that year.

Ken Beattie, executive director of the B.C. Craft Brewers Association, said his organization will be pressing the government to reevaluate its delayed timetable.

“You can’t go through two more Christmases without a safe ride home for everybody,” he told reporters at the Rideshare Now for B.C. event.

Donnelly Group brand and marketing director Damon Holowchak was perhaps less diplomatic, suggesting the B.C. government did not understand how ride-hailing technology works.

“It’s not like it’s new. It’s not like we’re sitting here reinventing the wheel. This is a proven model that exists all over the world, frankly, and it has for a long time,” he said.

“Any data, any research, anything that needs to be done, you can probably find it in some other city.”

Access to B.C. drivers may also be 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.

Timothy Burr, Lyft’s director of public policy, said outside the press conference that the Class 4 licence ignores the reality if how ride hailing works.

“It’s unfortunate to see Class 4 licences as part of the announcement,” he said, adding more than 93% of drivers drive for 20 hours or less.

“These are folks who are looking for part-time economic opportunities. They want to use Lyft as additional income. They want to use it on a part-time basis.”

Burr added that the Class 4 commercial licence requirement isn’t practical for most potential drivers.

Tostenson also took aim at the expanded power of the PTB, which will be responsible under the new legislation for determining how many ride-hailing vehicles would be available.

“[It] completely defeats the purpose, we think, of ride-sharing, which is driven by the consumer,” he said.

“How do you put restrictions on that?”