The B.C. cabinet minister responsible for developing regulations for ride-sharing services such as Uber says he's resisting pressure from the U.S.-based company, which has been using a variety of tactics as part of a prolonged public-relations campaign.
"You might characterize it as pushy. You might characterize it as cheeky," TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender said in an interview, adding it's clear to him Uber is trying to push him to speed up his government's consultations on a provincial policy.
Uber is holding information sessions for prospective drivers this week, in Victoria, Kelowna, Vancouver and Surrey, which a company spokesperson described as opportunities for local residents to learn about ride sharing and the benefits it brings to communities. The Surrey session was Wednesday night; a session in Vancouver was scheduled for Thursday.
Uber has previously said it would not push its way into British Columbia – a market it covets and describes as the largest North American city without ride sharing. Instead, the company says it will wait as the provincial government consults municipalities, taxi companies and other stakeholders en route to coming up with a B.C. policy.
"They're being very creative on one hand and very aggressive on the other hand to put what they call pressure on the government to move," Mr. Fassbender said.
"I suspect what they want is the premier's e-mail box, my e-mail box and perhaps every other MLA in government's e-mail box full of e-mails saying, 'Why are you taking so long and why don't you just get on to it? We think Uber is the greatest thing since the invention of sliced cheese.' We are not going to knuckle under to however many e-mails we get."
Indeed, Uber has repeatedly asked supporters in B.C. to contact the premier, sign a petition demanding the service be permitted in the province, or declare their support on social media.
The company also added a feature to its smartphone app that claims to show users in the province how quickly Uber could provide rides if it were operating. And it recently ran an "Uber pitch" promotion to deliver investors to entrepreneurs so they could discuss business pitches.
Late last month, Uber Canada general manager Ian Black issued an open letter to Premier Christy Clark calling on the province to allow the service to operate.
Mr. Fassbender said Uber's activities won't change the government's timetable.
"Whatever we do, we're not rushing to a solution to make Uber happy."
Uber has called on the government to introduce regulations this spring, but Mr. Fassbender rejected that timeline, saying he may have proposals to take to cabinet by the fall.
The president of the B.C. Taxi Association, based in Victoria, was more pointed than Mr. Fassbender.
Mohan Kang described the driver meetings as a "gimmick" to put pressure on the government while a process is under way that they were expected to respect.
"Where's the decency? Where is the corporate professionalism?"
Mr. Kang said his industry plays by the rules.
"Is there a time and place where Uber will start playing by the rules?"
Uber spokesperson Susie Heath, asked about the meetings, responded with an e-mailed statement saying the company continues to be focused on working with the B.C. government, which has said ride sharing is inevitable in the province.
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 black-car service in 2012.
Ms. Heath noted one key victory for Uber this week. The City of Ottawa has become the second Canadian municipality to allow Uber operation, after Edmonton.
She said she did not have any specific numbers on how many people have attended Uber sessions, but wrote: "we have been thrilled with the response from local residents."
Mr. Fassbender said he was mindful of Uber's win in Ottawa, but that it won't push him to speed up his work.
"I've met with Uber a couple of times. They keep sending me updates on the wonderful things that are happening in other markets," he said.