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Uber ruling out move to B.C. until province can develop regulations

Uber, which has launched in several Canadian cities, has encountered criticism almost everywhere it has expanded.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Ride-sharing service Uber says it is ruling out any move into British Columbia before the province decides how to manage such operations.

Uber has encountered criticism almost everywhere it has expanded. The company has launched in several Canadian cities over the objections of local governments and before regulatory regimes can be put in place. Its drivers have faced fines in cities such as Toronto and Ottawa. And hundreds of cabbies in Montreal last week held protests in traffic against what they see as the threat of Uber.

Susie Heath, the company's Canadian spokeswoman, said Uber has seen some progress working with local officials, citing the City of Edmonton's recent decision to adopt regulations that will allow Uber to operate there.

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"The work that we did in Edmonton, working with the city, was a very important model for the rest of Canada and something we're trying to replicate in B.C.," she said.

Ms. Heath said the company wants to give the B.C. government room to develop regulations for ride-sharing services.

Peter Fassbender, the B.C. minister responsible for TransLink, the Lower Mainland transportation authority, has launched a wide-ranging consultation effort to help the B.C. Liberal government decide how to proceed on the Uber issue.

However, Premier Christy Clark has said the province has no choice but to manage services provided as part of the sharing economy, including Uber.

Brishen Rogers, an associate professor of law at Temple University in Philadelphia who has written on Uber, said on Sunday that the company's position in relation to B.C. is atypical compared to its approach in the U.S. and Europe.

"The company's standard procedure in the U.S. and Europe has been to drive first and ask questions later," he said in an e-mail exchange.

He said the company has faced lawsuits in the United States, strikes by U.S. drivers and push back from taxi drivers and regulators in Europe that may be forcing it into a new maturity.

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However, John-Kurt Pliniussen, who teaches innovation and marketing at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., noted that Uber has been strategic elsewhere. For example, they pulled out of several cities in Germany.

Prof. Pliniussen also noted that Edmonton has Uber and Calgary doesn't, while the company works through regulatory issues.

"What Uber is simply saying is, 'It's just a matter of time,'" he said, suggesting the company seems certain it will get into the markets it wants. "It's just a matter of what's the best deal. They're in no rush."

The B.C. government and the City of Vancouver have previously opposed Uber's entrance into the region, but recently their positions have softened. Both levels of government have acknowledged services such as Uber will one day operate and that could mean new regulations.

"We've started a process in working with officials at the provincial level," said Ms. Heath. "We want to work through that process towards regulations for ride-sharing."

Uber regards Metro Vancouver as the largest North American region without ride-sharing – a promising market for its services. It operated in Vancouver in 2012, but withdrew from the province.

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The company has been hoping for new ride-sharing regulations this spring as a result of Mr. Fassbender's efforts.

Asked if Uber would go provincewide if it gets back into B.C., Ms. Heath said the company operates in large and small communities elsewhere in Canada.

On that point, Mr. Fassbender, in an interview Friday said that any policy on Uber would regulate its operation across British Columbia.

However, he said he could not commit to the B.C. government resolving the Uber issue before the next provincial election in May of 2017.

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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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