B.C. ride-hailing could be delayed until after holidays: MLA

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What happened: A provincial regulator is warning that ride-hailing applications could be delayed a further three weeks

Why it matters: Many British Columbians had been expecting ride-hailing services to launch in earnest by the holiday season

British Columbians may not be able to count on long-awaited ride-hailing services to get them home from this year’s Christmas festivities.

While some companies expected to receive an operating licence by mid-November, the province’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) is now cautioning that applications could face additional processing delays of 21 days.

“It’s going to be very difficult to have ride-hailing up and running in a legitimate way by Christmastime,” BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal told Business in Vancouver.

“We’ve added Class 4 licensing already, now we’ve added another hurdle companies have to jump over to start ride-hailing. It’s not necessary. This is to placate entrenched interests in the taxi industry. Nothing more, nothing less.”

In an October 30 letter obtained by BIV, the PTB told applicants that “it has decided to modify its ride hailing application process to provide further disclosure to submitters to ensure transparency in its decision making process.”

The move follows a judicial review launched by the Vancouver Taxi Association and B.C. Taxi Association.

The modification means the PTB will provide a copy of the application with confidential information redacted to the respective applicant.

The applicant has seven days to review the redacted documents and provide comments on the proposed redactions.

After that the documents will be submitted to other groups, such as taxi companies, letters regarding the applications for licences. Those groups will have 14 days to reply.

The companies will then go on to be vetted, however, it’s unclear how long that vetting would take.

“There are now 19 ride-hailing companies who have applied to start operating this year – clearly this is unprecedented in our province and there is no shortage of interest,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said in a statement.

“The independent Passenger Transportation Board is working through its decision-making process by ensuring everyone has the opportunity to weigh in and respond.

From what I understand, this will not add an extensive delay to the Board’s process.”

She said the government was proud of the work done to bring in ride-hailing and that she expects riders to be able to use the services by the end of the year.

“They should revoke the 21-day rule,” Johal said.

“Ultimately this is about the consumer and right now, as you know, the holiday season starts in many cases in mid-November and going all the way to January 1st. We cannot guarantee ride-hailing will be up and running in a meaningful way in that time.”

Peter Lukomskyj, the head of Lyft Inc.’s (Nasdaq:LYFT) B.C. operations, said last week that it was unclear how soon the company would be able to start offering rides once receiving a licence to operate.

One of the issues, he said, is that the company will still need to deal with getting business licences from municipalities in which they operate.

Surrey-based Kater Technologies Inc. CEO Scott Larson estimated it would take his company 7-10 days to begin offering rides upon receiving an operating licence.

Austin Zhang, CEO of Richmond-based Gokabu Group Holdings Inc., said he feels confident his company will be able to offer rides through its ride-hailing app, Kabu Ride, within a day of receiving an operating licence.

“Hundreds of drivers across the Lower Mainland have invested into the tens of millions of dollars upgrading to a Class 4 licence in the hope of joining the gig economy,” Zhang, whose company had been offering ride-hailing services on the grey market up until September, said in a statement.

“Now their plans for a more prosperous future for their families and a merry holiday season have been put on hold; most have been without a paycheque for 6 weeks and now face another long bleak stretch.”

Updated October 31 with comments from Trevena and clarifications in paragraphs 10-12 regarding modifications to the application process.