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B.C. Liberals vow to give Uber green light if re-elected

Taxi drivers wait for passengers in downtown Vancouver on Jan. 25, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Liberal government says it will allow ride-sharing services such as Uber to operate by Christmas – if the party is re-elected in the May provincial election.

The Liberals have outlined a long-awaited policy they say balances opportunities for the ride-sharing industry with protecting the taxi industry, which has strongly opposed ride sharing. The policy would clear the way for Uber and its competitors to operate in Vancouver, one of the few major cities in North America without some form of ride sharing.

But Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Tuesday that the new policy is contingent on the Liberals being re-elected to the fifth term on May 9.

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"We are very excited to be in a position to look British Columbians in the eyes and say, 'Ride sharing is coming to our province,'" Mr. Stone told a news conference in Vancouver.

He said that will happen by the end of the year, "assuming we're fortunate enough to be entrusted with another four years in this election process."

The Opposition NDP has also promised to regulate ride sharing.

The Liberal proposal would permit ride sharing while offering a series of policies designed to protect the taxi industry. Only traditional cabs would be permitted to be hired on the phone, at taxi stands or flagged down by customers on the street. The government would give $1-million to help taxi companies develop an app for shared dispatch, pledge to cut red tape affecting the taxi sector, and include safeguards for "fair and transparent" pricing.

Uber, which allows its customers to use an app to hail rides from drivers outside the traditional taxi system, has held off from launching in Vancouver while it waits for the new regulations. It operated its black-car service briefly in 2012 but has otherwise not pushed ahead against the wishes of local governments, as it has elsewhere.

Tuesday's announcement was welcomed by Uber.

"Today's announcement is a step forward by the provincial government and we're encouraging all parties in British Columbia to commit to bringing forward progressive regulations that embrace ride sharing in 2017," Uber Canada spokeswoman Susie Heath said in a statement.

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Mr. Stone and Community Minister Peter Fassbender, a cabinet point person on the ride-sharing issue, said they were open to further talks with stakeholders such as the taxi industry to make the policy more accommodating.

The Leader of the New Democrats, John Horgan, said an NDP government would also regulate ride sharing after a new process of consultation that, he argued, would be more thorough than Liberal efforts.

"Saying I met with someone is not a consultation," Mr. Horgan said in an interview. "The good news is this won't take effect immediately. That gives a new government the opportunity to do a genuine consultation."

The NDP Leader said ride sharing has its place in the economy.

"That has been proven in other jurisdictions, but, most importantly, we want to make sure we're not leaving a lot of people on the side of the road here," Mr. Horgan said, referring to taxi operators.

A spokeswoman for the Vancouver Taxi Association promised a fight, expressing concerns about an influx of ride-sharing vehicles and new taxis into the market.

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Carolyn Bauer also said she is concerned about a provision of the provincial plan that would allow all drivers, including taxis, the same access to provide services wherever and whenever a passenger needs a ride. Ms. Bauer said that could dilute the market for Vancouver cabs.

"We will use every available legal and political means to fight against this government initiative," she said without providing specifics.

Ms. Bauer was dismissive about further talks, saying the government has tabled an objectionable proposal despite consultations that included Mr. Fassbender attending a recent annual general meeting of Yellow Cab, where she is an executive.

The president of the B.C. Taxi Association said it was too soon to offer a verdict on the province's proposal. Mohan Singh Kang said he hopes to formulate a response based on meetings with his membership by early next week.

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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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