The B.C. cabinet minister tasked with examining how to regulate Uber is dispelling any notion that the province is close to a decision, while tempering his government's recent enthusiasm for the controversial ride-sharing service by highlighting some of the problems it's faced elsewhere.
"I think the timeline is this at the moment: It has no fixed end date, but it has a commitment to a very disciplined process moving forward, so we look at every issue that's brought forward," Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender said in an interview on Thursday.
Premier Christy Clark assigned Mr. Fassbender to the Uber file last month at a time when the government's stance toward the U.S.-based service appeared to be softening. Transportation Minister Todd Stone suggested Uber's presence in the province is inevitable and that many British Columbians are clamouring for such services. The provincial Liberals also touted Uber as part of the "sharing economy," which includes services such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, in a campaign for a suburban by-election that was held earlier this week. Liberal candidate Joan Isaacs said voters in the riding of Coquitlam-Burke Mountain were eager for such services, and her interest was positively cited by both Mr. Stone and the Premier. However, Ms. Isaacs was defeated by the NDP candidate in the vote on Tuesday.
Mr. Fassbender said the government's commitment to assess Uber's future will continue despite Ms. Isaacs's defeat at the polls. "I don't think the by-election has any affect," he said, adding there are many people outside and inside government with the same "strong points of view" as Ms. Isaacs. "We're going to continue to move ahead but make sure we do it well, that we hear from all the parties."
Mr. Fassbender said he was not drawing any specific lessons from Edmonton's recent decision to regulate and allow Uber. City councillors in the Alberta capital voted on a new set of regulations late last month – something Mr. Fassbender described as "good food for thought" as his government works through the issue.
He added that he is intent on consulting with stakeholders on ride-sharing, including Uber, municipalities and taxi companies, who have been vocal critics of the service. Mr. Fassbender said he's mindful of the industry's investment in its own survival.
Uber has encountered criticism almost everywhere it has expanded. The company has launched in several Canadian cities over the objections of local governments, and its drivers have been targeted by investigations and fines in cities such as Toronto and Ottawa. The company has also fended off complaints that drivers aren't properly trained, insured or screened.
In Quebec, the province's taxi industry went to court on Tuesday to seek a permanent injunction to shut down the service. The move comes on top of a class-action lawsuit application against Uber.
Edmonton's new rules for Uber will require changes at the provincial level, and the Ontario Legislature is also set to consider a bill that would make Uber, Airbnb and similar services legal. At the municipal level, cities such as Calgary and Toronto are looking into ways to regulate the service.
Unlike the B.C. Premier and Transportation Minister, whose comments on Uber and similar services have been largely positive, Mr. Fassbender acknowledged the potential downsides.
"I have done a little bit of looking at what's been going on in other jurisdictions and it's not all positive," he said.
Mr. Fassbender, who said he has never taken Uber or a ride-share service himself, noted there have been "challenges" around the quality of service and the protection of passengers in terms of liability insurance.
Uber operated its black-car service in Vancouver for a brief period in 2012 until it faced resistance from regulators. It has yet to apply to provincial regulators for approval to operate in B.C., although Mr. Stone has encouraged the company to do so.
An Uber spokesperson has said it is waiting for the B.C. government to introduce legislation to set provincial standards for ride-sharing, which it hopes to see this spring.
MLA George Heyman, speaking on the issue for the Opposition NDP, said he was pleased that the government won't be making any decisions before its fact-finding efforts are complete. "They probably should have started with a fact-finding mission before the Liberals started testing public opinion as part of a by-election campaign and Todd Stone did his triple flip-flop," Mr. Heyman said, describing the minister's varied positions on the issue.