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Christy Clark appoints TransLink minister to consult on Uber

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

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Premier has appointed Peter Fassbender, the minister responsible for TransLink, to talk to municipalities and other stakeholders about how to handle Uber and other ride-sharing services – an issue causing turmoil in the taxi industry and among some municipalities.

"Peter Fassbender is now beginning a consultation and really getting down, at a granular level, to people's thoughts about it and see if we can put it together," Premier Christy Clark said Monday.

The province has previously raised concerns about Uber and warned the company not to launch.

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The issue resurfaced last week when Transportation Minister Todd Stone said such services are inevitable. Ms. Clark's B.C. Liberal Party appeared to come out in support of the "sharing economy" in a provincial by-election campaign.

Ms. Clark said Uber and other ride-sharing services are new to to the government, which faces the challenge of figuring out how to regulate them.

Uber has not applied to the provincial regulators for approval to operate in B.C., although Mr. Stone has encouraged the company to do so.

However, Uber did operate its black-car service in Vancouver for a brief period in 2012 until it faced resistance from regulators.

Ms. Clark said Uber is part of the "sharing economy," a catch-all phrase her party recently started invoking to describe companies such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

"All of that sharing economy is catching up with us and it needs to be regulated. People want to know that they're safe and protected," she said.

Mr. Fassbender was unavailable for comment Monday.

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While a spokesperson for the Union of B.C. Municipalities said Monday the organization has no common position on Uber and other ride-sharing operations, some mayors had their own views.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he wouldn't rule out a discussion with Mr. Fassbender, though he is skeptical about the minister's odds of success, suggesting the Premier is overestimating his ability to work with Lower Mainland mayors.

"I don't think he has much cachet. It's not a good choice, in my view, of a person who would be going around to stump for the Premier on the issues surrounding Uber, which are pretty controversial and have strong, divided feelings among the mayors."

Mr. Corrigan, who opposes Uber being in Burnaby, said he believes the Premier knows the issue "is fraught with peril" given the strong reaction from taxi companies.

But Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she was happy to see Mr. Fassbender on the file.

"I've met with minister Fassbender on a number of other items. I think the Premier put the right guy on the file. He is interested in collaboration and he is interested in listening and coming up with solutions based on what he hears," she said.

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Ms. Helps said Victoria city council has yet to take a position on Uber and ride sharing, but she would support the services as long as their introduction is fair and there is a regulatory framework.

Ms. Helps said she has taken Uber in San Francisco, using her smartphone to summon a car and choosing from drivers who responded. She said the driver knew where she wanted to go, and the cost was taken off her credit card. "It's so simple," she said.

Ms. Helps said taxi drivers have told her they would be "happy" if the rules for Uber's operation were fair.

A spokesperson for the city of Richmond said council there has yet to take a formal position so the mayor would decline comment. Ted Townsend said the city has not yet been approached by the province for its input.

A spokesperson for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the mayor had not heard from Mr. Fassbender, but welcomed additional engagement on the issue from the B.C. government.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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