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British Columbia B.C. Liberal Party members call on provincial government to allow ride-sharing

The Uber app is displayed on an iPhone as taxi drivers wait for passengers in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Monday January 25, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Rank-and-file B.C. Liberals are urging the provincial government to hurry up with giving a green-light to ride-sharing, a call that comes as British Columbia is considering its options on the issue.

Delegates at the governing party's ongoing convention – the last before the May, 2017 provincial election – voted 81 per cent on Saturday in favour of a resolution urging the government to adopt legislation "at the nearest opportunity" allowing ride-sharing.

The resolution, credited to nine riding associations in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, called for insurance to protect passengers, including an "effective and efficient" driver-screening process and the recognition that ride-sharing requires distinct rules reflecting differences from other transportation models.

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"I've seen ride-sharing work. As the party of 'Yes,' let's get to 'yes' on ride-sharing," James Lombardi, the B.C. Liberal candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey told delegates during a debate on the resolution, putting a spin on the B.C. Liberal mantra for economic development.

Gavin Dew, who ran for the Liberals in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant by-election earlier this year but did not win, said he feels ashamed when visitors come to British Columbia and he has to point out that the province hasn't figured out how to regulate ride-sharing. "Change is hard, but prolonged uncertainty is worse. It's time we get to clarity on this as soon as possible," he said.

However, another delegate noted that the investments of individual taxi drivers in their industry have to be respected. She also wondered about enforcing safety for passengers and how ride-sharing operators would be taxed.

Uber responded quickly to the vote, which came on the second day of the convention in the first resolution up for debate.

"It is encouraging to see 81 per cent support from the B.C. Liberal Party on ride-sharing, which is reflective of the broad public support in the province to have Uber bring safe, reliable and affordable transportation options to communities across B.C.," Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath said in a statement.

"It's clear that British Columbians want the provincial government [to] move forward on progressive ride-sharing regulations as soon as possible."

Uber has launched in cities across Canada, often against the wishes of local governments, but has yet to enter British Columbia on a large scale. Despite briefly operating a limousine service in Vancouver in 2012, the company has heeded warnings to stay away as the province examines possible regulations.

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Peter Fassbender, the provincial community minister who is also responsible for TransLink, the Lower Mainland authority in charge of transportation, said he didn't feel any pressure from the party vote and that the government will continue assessing ride-sharing on its own timetable.

"I feel no more pressure than I felt before, quite honestly," Mr. Fassbender told reporters outside the room where delegates were considering resolutions.

Mr. Fassbender said change on the issue is inevitable, but the question is what it looks like. He said the province will clarify its position on the issue ahead of the May, 2017 provincial election.

The minister said the comments from the floor, both pro and con for ride-sharing, were consistent with what he has heard in his own talks with stakeholders on the issue.

Selina Robinson, the B.C. NDP critic for local government, said it was striking that the Liberals had slotted a resolution on ride-sharing as the first to be addressed at their convention ahead of such issues as housing affordability and child poverty.

"It says they are looking for something new and exciting rather than fixing problems that have manifested under their watch."

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Ms. Robinson said the NDP values a level playing field that includes fairness for the taxi industry, and that ride-sharing will have to follow rules around public safety.

She said an NDP government elected next May would not be averse to quickly enacting ride-sharing as long as its concerns were met.

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