Big Taxi’s big roadblocks stalling ride-hailing competition in B.C.

We got ride-sharing last week in the Lower Mainland. People hopped a lift from neighbours in the cold and snow.

We had ride-hailing, too. People waved their arms to flag a taxi.

But we had neither ride-sharing nor ride-hailing in the way other jurisdictions around the world know it commonly and contemporarily. The theatrics on launching such services have been a disgraceful, disingenuous performance by a provincial government that insults the intelligence of those it purports to serve and respect by expecting us to believe it on this issue.

We have lost count of the many fake moves by John Horgan’s NDP to feign that real ride-hailing was coming, soon, and that somehow it would be better, yes, better, even better than what was elsewhere.

To recount would be to examine how a government plots to paralyze progress to appease a politically active taxi community that (a) raises money, (b) raises support and (c) raises hell when its brazen monopoly is threatened.

Were this power-wielding group Big Oil or Big Pharma, NDP ministers would be tripping over themselves to stage gaseous press briefings that would take us off our carbon emission targets, offering full-fledged courage to take them down.

But Big Taxi remains a fearsome, tactically brilliant political force, adept at toppling those who would wobble them. Witness: not a peep of disquiet on their industry from their NDP hostages. The sprawling network of licensees, drivers, families and their friends organize exceptionally and can ensure who gets nominated to run, who gets money and volunteers in a riding, and who gets targeted for crossing swords.

Remember Peter Fassbender and Amrik Virk, two Surrey ex-provincial Liberal ministers who ought to have been re-elected in 2017, if only to offer a voice at the cabinet table? They were replaced by two clout-less NDPers – well, one’s a whip – ostensibly for the major crime of daring to express an intention to introduce Lyft, Uber and, gasp, competition.

Since the election ouster, a snail’s pace and a series of base canards. The premier most recently promised ride-hailing by Christmas; true, he didn’t say which one, or that the diluted offering will make near-beer seem like cognac.

The generous read on the preposterous trek to ride-hailing has been that of an incompetent government that couldn’t introduce condiment to a hamburger. A more accurate read employs many adjectives, most of them defamatory but likely to enjoy the mercy of the court.

The two-plus Horgan years have involved deception and deferrals galore. Ride-hailing has existed for a decade, yet British Columbia treated a rather simple business bid as if it were tasked with splitting the atom using a butter knife. It pretended it had public safety in mind, when it was taxi industry safety uppermost.

Here we are, then, in the dead of what we call our winter, and only the good folks of Tofino have ride-hailing, due to the glacial ways of the independent Passenger Transportation Board (PTB), which has sole approval duty and is the government’s latest villain of the piece.

At last glance there are a half-dozen employees reviewing a couple of dozen applications to hit the road, and they appear to be some sort of secretive cult, working where they can’t be found, issuing one statement in December and then vaporizing.

The province, in understanding that its diluted form of ride-hailing was coming, didn’t think – or did it? – to increase the staff of the board.

So it’s the PTB’s fault, just as the licensing matter and boundary issues and fleet sizes had to be solved, just as the dog ate and ate and ate the homework.

Lyft has spent, I’m told, seven figures in marketing a service it cannot yet offer. I’ve had friends tell me it’s available on the basis of seeing its advertising, because you’d think that would be a dead giveaway. But no, I’ve had to tell friends that all Lyft was doing was assuming its massively delayed application would at last be processed at a speed most such matters are.

Well, welcome to British Columbia, Not-Big Ride-Hail. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.