Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have long fought to stop British Columbia from forcing their drivers to have the same licences as cabbies, but experts say this requirement will ensure this nascent sector rolls out in and around Vancouver slowly later this year.
Earlier this week, Lyft said it plans to start operating in Metro Vancouver this fall. Uber, its largest competitor, is engaging in a campaign encouraging those who aspire to drive for the company to get their commercial licence before it determines whether it will open in the last major city in North America without the service. Just last month, both companies said the requirement could be a deal-breaker for them in the province.
Later this summer, the Passenger Transportation Board in B.C. will unveil its final rules covering fares and the number of vehicles permitted for each ride-booking service, with the B.C. Transportation Ministry setting Sept. 3 as the date ride-hailing companies can apply to enter the market.
Peter Lukomskyj, general manager in B.C. for Lyft, which does not operate in Alberta, said his firm is offering to cover the costs of educational materials and road tests for its aspiring drivers who want to get the commercial licence mandated by the province. To recruit existing taxi drivers, Lyft is also offering to pay back any existing commercial driver’s licence holders for the vehicle inspection and criminal record check needed to join the company, he added.
“Despite these headwinds, I’m going to make all efforts to get a stable supply of drivers," Mr. Lukomskyj said.
Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s executive in charge of its operations in Western Canada, said his firm is still trying to gauge whether it can attract enough licensed drivers to begin offering its services this year in the Lower Mainland. Uber wants to be able to operate in all of the province, but the restrictive licensing likely means a narrower focus at first on Vancouver and its closest suburbs.
He said that the company began operating in Edmonton in 2014 and in 2016 saw an “impact on the business” when Alberta implemented a commercial licensing regime akin to B.C.'s. Uber says it is active in Calgary, Edmonton and the two smaller cities of Red Deer and Lethbridge.
“They’re healthy markets right now, but challenges remain,” he said of his firm’s business in Alberta.
B.C.'s ride-hailing market at the outset should not be that different from Alberta’s, which also restricts everyday drivers from working in the sector without obtaining their commercial licence, according to Anthony Perl, a professor of urban studies and political science at Simon Fraser University who testified before the provincial committee crafting the new rules. He said that at first, the ride-hailing companies will operate only in B.C.’s densest urban centres, like in Alberta.
“We will wind up with a regulated, safe and effective market [in Metro Vancouver] given the current framework,” Prof. Perl said.
Erez Aloni, an expert on the platform economy who teaches at the University of British Columbia’s law school, said the province’s stricter licensing rules are another barrier for Uber and Lyft to enter the market but not as onerous as both global firms have been claiming in recent months.
“Many places in the world don’t require a Class 4 licence, but I think it’s fine to take the time and do a gradual entrance and supervised entrance into the market,” Prof. Aloni said. “There has been a lot of pushback, but remember these are big companies with lots of money for pushback.”
Prof. Aloni added that narrowing the pool of potential drivers could also lessen a possible increase in congestion on Metro Vancouver streets, as has occurred in other cities where ride-hailing has exploded.
Asked about possible driver shortages, B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure released a statement saying there are already more than 160,000 people with the necessary commercial licences in the province and that additional driver examiners have been hired to support an anticipated spike in Class 4 testing in and around Vancouver.
B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Singh Kang said that given Alberta’s experience, he always believed these ride-hailing operators would acquiesce to the government’s stricter licensing.
With a report from The Canadian Press