Kater app suspends transportation services ahead of ride-hailing rollout

Kater Technologies Inc. CEO Scott Larson | Photo: Tyler Orton

What happened: Kater has ceased offering rides to customers

Why it matters: The company says it’s now focused on transitioning to traditional ride-hailing operations

Using an app to request and pay for a ride is an almost mythical experience for British Columbians still awaiting the arrival of regulated ride-hailing.

It’s now become even harder to come by ahead of ride-hailing’s expected rollout after Kater Technologies Inc. announced it has suspended operations of its own transportation services.

The Vancouver-based company began offering rides in the spring after striking a deal last year with the Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA) to secure taxi licences for Kater’s own fleet of vehicles.

The deal saw Kater paying out 20% of its profits to the VTA in return for taxi licences that would allow it to facilitate rides and payments via an app.

A statement posted to the company’s website said it has stopped operating its fleet of cars effective November 30 and has started the process of switching to “full-scale ride-hailing operations, launching in the very near future.”

The messaged signed off stating, “See you all in a few weeks’ time.”

In an email to Business in Vancouver Kater said it has not received additional information from the province as to when ride-hailing services will launch in B.C.

But Kater CEO Scott Larson previously told BIV that once his company receives an operating licence — or Transportation Network Service (TNS) licence — it would be ready to offer services in Metro Vancouver within seven to 10 days.

While the B.C. government had said regulated ride-hailing would launch before the end of the year, those estimates were thrown a curveball in October.

That’s when the province’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) — the body charged with approving TNS licences — sent a letter to applicants warning that their applications could face processing delays of as much as 21 days owing to a judicial review launched by the VTA.

The VTA raised concerns that ride-hailing companies won’t initially face caps on the number of vehicles they can operate.

Peter Lukomskyj, general manager of B.C. operations for Lyft Inc. (Nasdaq:LYFT), told BIV in October the PTB was expected to begin issuing licences by mid-November.

So far, no licences have been issued.

Combined with the aforementioned processing delay, it’s unclear whether regulated ride-hailing will hit B.C. roads by the end of the year.

But B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena told reporters last week she still expects ride-hailing to arrive by Christmas.

Meanwhile, despite suspending operations of its fleet of vehicles with taxi licences, Kater said it intends to re-introduce that business model once traditional ride-hailing has been "successfully introduced across Vancouver."

"Our goal has always been to provide different options to our customers, and we plan to integrate a variety of mobility options to our users while supporting existing stakeholders and infrastructure," the company said in an email.

torton@biv.com

@reporton

[Updated December 2, 3:05 p.m., with Kater's responses to questions from BIV.]