After years of delays and pushback on ride-hailing, B.C. is officially joining the ranks of jurisdictions across North America and around the world in allowing the practice. But if you live outside of Vancouver, your options will be limited (for now) to smaller companies not named Uber or Lyft.
Ride-hailing regulations took effect in September, but vehicles aren’t expected to be on the road until around Christmas time. While B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena said she remains confident the services will launch in time for the holiday, Premier John Horgan said he wouldn’t consider it a government failure if that doesn’t happen.
Here’s a detailed look at the companies set to operate, the view from taxi companies and how the rollout of these services has played out in other cities across the continent.
How ride-hailing works
Like taxis, ride-hailing services are designed to get you from one destination to another. But there are some key differences:
Download an app: After downloading a company’s app on your phone, you’ll typically be required to create a profile and store a credit card number on file. Unlike with taxi services, no payment transaction occurs in the vehicle. Some companies offer a one-time trip discount code to encourage registrations.
Taking a ride: When you’re ready to use the service, make sure to have your GPS turned on and enter your destination. You’ll then be given a price estimate based on driver availability and demand, followed by the approximate time it will take for your ride to arrive. Apps will typically show you in real time where your driver is, plus their name, rating, licence plate number and vehicle make and model.
Ratings: Most services use a five-point scale for ratings. While a perfect score is rare, Lyft defines anything above 4.8 as “awesome” and suggests improving if you fall below that mark. (Those with consistently low scores are at risk of deactivation.) In the days after launch, don’t be surprised to see more perfect and lower scores due to a minimal number of trips. The evaluations work both ways: Passengers are also rated by drivers.
The ride-hailing companies and where they’ll operate
Companies were allowed to begin applying for a ride-hailing licence on Sept. 3, but the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB)'s approval process has taken longer than initially planned.
Once they launch, the services will be required to charge a minimum rate of between $3.35 and $3.50 per ride, a similar base to when you take a taxi. So far, 19 companies have applied for licences. Here’s a look at some of them:
Uber: The U.S. ride-hailing giant has applied to operate in Region 1, which includes Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish and north of Whistler to Lillooet. Uber has yet to determine if it will launch in all of those communities once it receives approval; it plans to begin providing rides in time for the holiday season.
Lyft: Uber’s biggest competitor has also applied for a Region 1 licence and plans to operate in the Lower Mainland before the end of the year.
Kater: The Vancouver company, which already operates a hybrid app-based transportation service using its own cars, is planning to launch across the province by the end of the year. That includes the Lower Mainland, Whistler, Vancouver Island, the Okanagan and northern B.C.
TappCar: Originally launched in Edmonton, TappCar is planning to roll out services in all regions of the province except northern B.C. over the course of the next year. Besides Alberta, it also operates in Manitoba.
Kabu: The Richmond-based company, which had operated in a legal grey area within the Chinese community since launching in 2016, halted its ride-hailing operations in September as it seeks a formal licence. It plans to provide services via a mini-program within the Chinese social platform WeChat as well as through a downloadable app for non-Chinese customers.
Lucky To Go: The company, which is based out of Victoria, has applied to operate in the provincial capital as well as other parts of Vancouver Island and the Okanagan area.
The pushback on driver requirements
One key gripe from both Uber and Lyft is a requirement for drivers to obtain a commercial Class 4 Licence just like taxi drivers. This includes a separate knowledge test and road test; drivers must also have fewer than four penalty points over the last two years, and no medical condition that could affect their ability to drive. (Beyond the Class 4, companies must also ensure drivers complete a criminal-record check and verify vehicles have passed an inspection.)
Some ride-hailing companies and a growing number of suburban and rural communities say the Class 4 requirement will hamper the ability to recruit drivers and operate outside the densely populated Vancouver area.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who is organizing a letter to the province on behalf of at least 45 mayors, said: “We know if we supply-manage this, the suburbs will have less-than-optimal coverage.” He is calling for a change to the standard Class 5 licence held by most people who drive their own cars.
Despite concerns about a lack of services outside the Lower Mainland, the PTB has received licence applications covering all five provincial regions.
Why taxi companies are opposed and how they’re responding
While ride-hailing companies will be able to operate with no geographical restrictions, cab companies will continue to face limits on where they can operate in Metro Vancouver. The taxi lobby is criticizing both this and the decision to place no cap on the number of drivers Uber and Lyft can hire, unlike the limit on the number of cab licences.
In early September, a group of nine taxi companies launched a last-ditch legal effort to challenge rules they say amount to “destructive competition.” But Ms. Trevena, the province’s Transportation Minister, says she doesn’t expect the request to the B.C. Supreme Court to delay the launch of ride hailing.
Some municipalities have also thrown their support behind the taxi industry. Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum vowed to deny ride-hailing companies business licences, but B.C.’s Transportation Ministry said the PTB has the sole authority to regulate the supply and boundaries.
Will these services make my commute longer?
Studies in U.S. cities have shown that Uber and Lyft increase traffic congestion, as people who normally walk, cycle or take public transit instead opt for ride-hailing.
In San Francisco, researchers found that ride-hailing services accounted for 50 per cent of the rise in congestion between 2010 and 2016. That figure jumped to 73 per cent within the city’s downtown financial district.
If Vancouver’s high rate of transit riders increasingly turns to ride hailing, it could create congestion problems like those experienced in San Francisco, said Alex Bigazzi, an assistant professor in civil engineering and planning at the University of British Columbia.
The City of Vancouver has responded by implementing an anti-congestion levy of 30 cents for every ride-hailing trip originating or ending in the downtown area between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
For its part, the PTB plans to monitor ride-hailing performance data and traffic patterns and could consider implementing a cap on fleet sizes or measures such as congestion pricing in the future.
How ride-hailing has been received elsewhere
Uber and Lyft have been increasingly hit with further regulations as governments respond to often long-standing complaints from advocates. And in Quebec, taxi drivers are taking to the streets over a provincial bill.
Over the summer, Toronto’s city council voted in favour of mandatory training requirements for drivers who work for ride-hailing services or taxi companies, bringing it in line with a number of major cities. That’s a reversal of a 2016 decision that faced scrutiny after a young man was killed in a collision; his Uber driver was subsequently charged with dangerous driving.
Quebec’s cab drivers conducted rotating strikes in September to protest proposed provincial legislation that would put an end to traditional taxi permits. The deregulation measures would also allow taxis to set rates based on demand like Uber (Lyft doesn’t currently operate in Quebec).
The mayor of Seattle recently announced a plan that would see the city add a per-ride fee of 51 US cents on Uber and Lyft, with those revenues directed in part toward affordable housing and transit. The plan, opposed by both companies, would also mandate a minimum wage for drivers plus benefits. Lyft said it supports a minimum-earnings guarantee, but called the measure a “regressive tax” and said the city should instead turn to congestion pricing.
In New York, Uber is suing the city over rules limiting how much time ride-hailing drivers can spend driving in the city without any passengers. It’s also battling a rule put in place last year that imposed a limit on the number of ride-hailing vehicles.
California’s plan to impose a minimum wage and other protections for ride-hailing drivers has prompted Uber to propose a $21-per-hour minimum wage for drivers, a figure that’s lower than the amount mandated in New York City. A proposed class-action filed in California argues Uber is misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors, rather than employees.
Commentary and analysis
With reports from Frances Bula, Ian Bailey, Mike Hager, Oliver Moore, The Canadian Press and Reuters.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.