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British Columbia Uber-less Vancouver to study bringing in ride-share service

Vancouver will look into what other cities are doing with the ride-sharing industry.

Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press

Uber is pleased the City of Vancouver is cracking open the door to the idea of the ride-sharing company and others like it operating here.

A recent staff report on how to make improvements to taxi service includes a recommendation to "examine the issues and opportunities for ride share in Metro Vancouver" and report back within three months.

"We are encouraged by the findings of the staff report and are committed to meeting with provincial officials and city staff on its one- to three-month time frame to bring a plan to elected officials on how to quickly enable ride sharing in British Columbia," says Susie Heath, the local representative for Uber.

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But a city councillor who tracks the issue says that, ultimately, it will be the province that needs to act on the matter.

Vancouver is the largest North American city without Uber or other similar ride-sharing service, largely because of the clout the province has – not just with its own regulations but its control over car insurance.

Councillor Geoff Meggs said the city acknowledges that it has to be prepared to talk about how ride sharing could work in the region and to work with all the Lower Mainland municipalities on how to regulate it. "We're trying to manage that transition if it happens."

But, he emphasized, Vancouver can't act alone.

That's why the city staff recommendation is for the city to continue talks that have been going on for months with the provincial Passenger Transportation Board, other cities in the region, the taxi industry, Uber, the airport, TransLink, and the cruise-ship industry.

Vancouver will also be looking at what other cities are doing with a ride-sharing industry that has exploded around the globe in the past six years.

Licensing director Andreea Toma says her department will be looking at the regulations that have been put in place or are being discussed by Canadian cities, such as Toronto and Edmonton, and U.S. cities, such as Portland and Seattle.

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"We need to develop a system with some nuances and specifics that would work," she said.

Ms. Toma's report also recommends that the city look at data monitoring for any taxi or ride-sharing company that operates in Vancouver, to track public demand, illegal pick-ups, and other issues.

Uber was started in San Francisco in early 2009, introducing a system where anyone who wanted to offer rides and any customer could connect through a smartphone app.

Uber now operates in 330 cities in 60 countries, and has spawned several imitators using similar technologies.

The ride-hailing system drew thousands of new drivers into city markets, since it offered them the possibility to work only the hours and parts of the city they preferred.

Many customers have been enthusiastic about the flexibility and convenience, not to mention sometimes lower prices, offered by the service.

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But Uber, the biggest of them all, has also been accused of bulldozing its way into cities and undercutting a vital part of urban transportation, the taxi industry. There have also been occasional reports of sexual assaults by Uber drivers, along with fears that the taxi industry will be replaced by a system where only the most favourable customers will get picked up.

Uber operated briefly in Vancouver in 2012 before being shut down by the province.

The city's report, which will hear from speakers next week, has also made recommendations to improve taxi service in the region, with recommendations on better training, required waiting times for a call, and more region-wide planning.

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