If you’re looking to hail a cheap ride, Richmond is the place to be - if the word on the street is anything to go by.
Some believe the city has become the hub for a host of ride-hailing apps that can take you from point A to point B for about two-thirds the price of an Uber - never mind a cab.
However, there are a couple of catches. One, to use some of the apps, you have to be able to speak Chinese and, two, they’re illegal.
To test the theory a couple of Richmond News reporters called two of the better-known ride-hailing apps that do not have a license to operate anywhere in Metro Vancouver – something regulated by the Passenger Transportation Branch.
Five minutes after calling Raccoon Go, a Toyota pulled up to Lansdowne Shopping Centre to pick up the reporters.
A quick jaunt from Lansdowne to Richmond City Hall cost $10 in cash.
At city hall, hailing a ride using another illegal app, UDI-X, was a bit slower, but eventually a Tesla pulled up and drove the News reporters back to Lansdowne Shopping Centre, again for $10, but with no receipt option available except a screenshot from the app.
Both drivers told the News they would rather be driving for Uber – which is a legal ride-hailing service in B.C. – but neither of them had Class 4 licences, something required by the province for ride-hailing drivers.
On top of the proper driver’s licence, ride-hailing drivers must also undergo a vulnerable-persons criminal record check.
Furthermore, the ride-hailing company needs to have insurance to cover accidents. ICBC warns passengers who use illegal ride-hailing that the vehicle “may not have the required insurance to protect passengers in the event of a crash.”
At least two ride-hailing companies that don’t have permits from the provincial government operate in Richmond, advertising on platforms like WeChat and Apple Play, and another is recruiting drivers on its website.
Minister warns of consequences for illegal ride-hailing drivers
The Minister of Transportation had a dire warning for illegal ride-hailing services, saying they are receiving tips on these apps and they have an enforcement plan.
“I would say those engaging in this industry, there will be significant penalties that will really impact their ability to ever work in the ground transportation industry and they should cease doing it immediately,” Fleming told the Richmond News.
And it is the drivers who will bear the consequences of fines for driving without a business licence, proper insurance and other irregularities.
So far, however, fines from both the province and the City of Richmond have been few and far between.
In 2021, the Passenger Transportation Branch only gave out 33 fines in Richmond – 106 all together in the province - and the City of Richmond only fined six illegal ride-hailing drivers for not having a business licence in the last six months of last year.
The Raccoon Go driver told the News, factoring in the commission he pays to the app and gas prices, he’s making about $10 per hour, whereas, the UDI-X driver told the News she works three to four hours per day, and earns about $100 per shift. But, she added, driving an electric vehicle cuts down on her costs.
Some of her friends who are working in the industry work day and night and earn up to $10,000 per month.
She liked the flexibility of working for ride-hailing, because she can choose how many clients she has and her own hours.
For both of these drivers, ride-hailing is just a part-time job.
Comparing prices between illegal apps and Uber, the price difference was about 30 per cent.
Fleming told the News, while he’d rather defer to the minister of public safety on the issue, there are “a number of investigations underway,” with crackdowns involving ICBC and the Passenger Transportation Board.
“Enforcement strategies are being pursued to make sure that that risk to the travelling public is dealt with,” he added.
In addition to UDI-X and Raccoon Go, Longmao also advertises ride-hailing in Richmond on its website.
On its app, Racoon Go has branded itself as the “leading ride-hailing company” in North America, with drivers in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Coquitlam. It has also launched moving and chauffeur services.
It states it’s looking for “good-tempered and excellent drivers," offering $5,000 in monthly salary and benefits.
Longmao says on its website potential drivers need a valid driver’s licence, a car not more than eight years old and a smart phone.
UDI-X claims its fees are low and its drivers have gone through a background check.
Clay Adams, Richmond city spokesperson, said the city recognizes it must be frustrating for legal ride-hailing companies to know so many illegal ones are operating.
However, the city is limited in what it can do, he added, as its only enforcement tool is to give a fine for not having a business licence. All other enforcement, including vehicle safety inspections and insurance, are done by the Passenger Transportation Branch.
Furthermore, these app-based ride-hailing services are “sophisticated” in how they operate and are difficult to catch, Adams elaborated.