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British Columbia B.C. rejects Uber request to revise licensing regulations

Minister of Transportation Todd Stone says he wants to see ride-sharing ‘grow and flourish’ alongside traditional taxi services.

John Lehman/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Transportation Minister is rejecting a request by Uber that the government revise regulations on licensing such operations, saying the current system is ready to process "ride-sharing" services that want to operate in the province.

Uber Canada argues that the current licensing system, which is overseen by B.C.'s Passenger Transportation Board, can't accommodate ride-sharing services and called on the province to update the law.

But Transportation Minister Todd Stone, who earlier this week said he wanted to see services such as Uber "grow and flourish" alongside traditional taxis, ruled out legislative changes. He said if Uber wants, it can apply now.

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"The regulatory framework is there," Mr. Stone said Thursday. "Uber and companies like it need to continue to sit down and talk through their wishes and desires."

The Transportation Ministry said such applications go first to a ministry registrar and then to the Passenger Transportation Board, a five-member independent tribunal that makes decisions on applications for licensing passenger-directed vehicles such as taxis, limousines and shuttle vans.

If licences are approved, they are issued by the Passenger Transportation Branch.

The provincial government has previously taken a strict line against Uber, but that message changed this week when Mr. Stone said Uber and other ride-sharing services will inevitably come to British Columbia.

Asked about how his thinking on the file has evolved, Mr. Stone repeated Thursday that the government has been listening to residents of the province on this file.

"We're hearing pretty consistently from a lot of British Columbians who see the benefits of the types of services that ride-sharing services like Uber provide and really want to see these services offered in British Columbia," he said.

Such companies are welcome to operate if they follow the rules, he added.

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The company has already launched its UberX service – which allows passengers to connect with drivers using a smartphone app outside the traditional taxi system – in other Canadian cities, often without permission from regulators. Critics say the service allows drivers to operate without the oversight, training and insurance required by cab drivers.

The opposition NDP accused the minister of inconsistent positions, suggesting in a statement issued Thursday that the government has come "full circle" on Uber.

NDP Leader John Horgan said his party supports evolving transportation models, as long as the rules are fair and equally applied, and consumer safety is ensured.

Ride-sharing services have picked up some cautious support from other quarters. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, in a letter to Mr. Stone released this week, wrote that the B.C. government must update its system for regulating taxi service as a prelude to allowing ride-sharing services such as Uber into the province.

Vancouver councillors placed a moratorium in the fall of 2014 on any licensing that would allow Uber to operate in the city, and they have yet to lift those restrictions. Unlike in other Canadian cities, where Uber has launched in defiance of local officials' warnings, the company has yet to operate in Vancouver – aside from a brief period in 2012, during which it ran its black-car service until it faced resistance from regulators.

On Thursday, an Uber Canada spokeswoman said in an e-mail exchange that "there is currently no process to apply for ride-sharing in B.C.," and that the company hopes for legislation this spring. But it did not address the disagreement with the B.C. government.

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Susie Heath pointed to Edmonton, where debate is under way to set up a fee structure for ride-sharing companies such as Uber.

"We are cautiously optimistic that Edmonton could become the first Canadian city to approve a workable regulatory framework for ride-sharing," she said.

In November, luxury sedan company Ripe Rides, which operates with a smartphone app linking customers to its sedans, won the right to operate in Vancouver with 20 licences.

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