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The Uber app is displayed on an iPhone as taxi drivers wait for passengers at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on March 7, 2017.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The British Columbia government says it's cracking down on illegal ride-hailing services across the province, issuing fines and cease-and-desist orders against companies and drivers operating without licences.

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft are currently illegal in B.C., though the NDP government is studying potential options to legalize and regulate them. In the meantime, a handful of smaller operators have launched, either with smartphone apps or through the Chinese-language WeChat platform, to offer rides primarily to Chinese-speaking passengers in B.C.

The Passenger Transportation Board, which regulates commercial transportation in the province, has issued more than 20 cease-and-desist orders and handed out fines of $1,150 to 23 drivers, the Ministry of Transportation announced on Monday.

A news release mentioned several companies: Longmao, Udi Kuaiche, U Drop, RaccoonGo, GoKabu, Dingdang Carpool and AO Rideshare.

The Transportation Ministry says at least eight of the tickets issued are being disputed, while at least two have been paid.

A spokesperson from Longmao said that the company is disappointed the province is taking action against ride-hailing services.

"We're very disappointed at the provincial government's attitude, which is made for a small group of people's interest, but neglected most people's opinions and voices," Xianglun Sun said in an e-mail on Monday.

The company also calls for the government to make ride-hailing service available in B.C. as soon as possible.

"We hope the [provincial] government can make plans to let people use such services safely as soon as possible."

Jurisdictions across Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, have legalized and regulated ride-hailing apps in recent years, with Uber being by far the largest player. But such services have been shut out of B.C., though in last year's election, the New Democrats promised to legalize them once in office. A government review is expected to be finished later this year.

Uber briefly operated its black-car service in Vancouver several years ago, but the company has otherwise stayed out of the B.C. market, despite pressing into other cities without the permission of regulators.

Smaller Chinese firms have filled the void, largely operating under the radar.

Udi Kuaiche's website shows that the company not only operates such a service in B.C., but also in other big North American cities, including Toronto.

Ted Townsend, communications director for the City of Richmond, said the city, the Passenger Transportation Board and the Richmond RCMP have taken joint action against illegal ride-hailing services.

He said 12 operators were stopped over the past two weeks. In addition to the Passenger Transportation Board fines, he said city licensing inspectors issued 36 tickets and the RCMP issued five tickets.

He pointed out that of the 12 vehicles stopped in Richmond, one driver had a novice licence and another driver had an expired licence. He said unlike licensed operators, these drivers have also not been required to clear a criminal record check.

"Passengers must know that when they hail a ride in a vehicle through these apps they are choosing to take a trip in a vehicle that has not been licensed to operate legally in British Columbia," he said.

GoKabu, which began its ride-hailing service in June, 2016, says on its website that it has about 600 drivers and operates about 950 transportation services every day.

Carolyn Bauer, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Taxi Association, said the provincial government's attempt to target illegal operators is "wonderful."

"We need to make the public aware that [such service] has to be vetted properly; the drivers have to be vetted; the vehicle has to be vetted and they have to have insurance," she added.

Dara Khosrowshahi has been named the new boss at Uber, replacing co-founder Travis Kalanick. Kalanic had been under fire for his management style when he stepped down in June, and Uber has been under investigation for a range of serious allegations, including sexual harassment.

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