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Vancouver mayor calls for taxi regulation update to allow ride-sharing

Vancouver mayor's letter suggests he is open to welcoming Uber, as along as certain concerns are addressed.

Sergio Perez / Reuters

Mayor Gregor Robertson says the B.C. government must update its problematic system for regulating taxi service as a prelude to allowing ride-sharing services such as Uber into the province.

"B.C. currently lacks a modern regulatory framework to enable these new transportation technologies while ensuring proper standards are met," Mr. Robertson wrote earlier this month in a letter to Transportation Minister Todd Stone that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The letter suggests the mayor of British Columbia's most populous city is not averse to welcoming the controversial ride-sharing service, as long as certain concerns are addressed.

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"The first step for regulating such services starts with the B.C. government's Passenger Transportation Board and the Ministry of Transportation," Mr. Robertson wrote in the Jan. 5 letter.

The mayor wrote that the City of Vancouver is supportive of these new technologies if there is a "fair and level playing field" for all service providers.

"We urge you to work with local governments in the region as well as the taxi industry and other key stakeholder groups to put in place regulations that enable ride-sharing while addressing the need for all companies to provide proper insurance, driver training, service for people with disabilities and meet environmental standards."

Vancouver councillors placed a moratorium in the fall of 2014 on any licensing that would allow Uber to operate in the city, and they have yet to lift those restrictions. Unlike in other Canadian cities, where Uber has launched in defiance of local officials' warnings, the company has yet to operate in Vancouver – aside from a brief period in 2012, during which it ran its black-car service until it faced resistance from regulators.

The Passenger Transportation Board is a five-member independent tribunal, launched in 2004 and based in Victoria, that makes decisions on applications for licensing passenger-directed vehicles such as taxis, limousines and shuttle vans.

Mr. Stone, who has previously taken a hard line against Uber, this week said it and other ride-sharing services will inevitably come to B.C., despite his government's previous warnings about preventing Uber from setting up operations.

But the Transportation Minister said the service, which uses a smartphone app to connect users with drivers outside the traditional taxi system, will only be permitted if it receives proper approvals.

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In an interview, Mr. Stone said it's clear that many B.C. residents would welcome the kind of services offered by Uber, which provides taxi, limousine and ride-sharing services.

In 2014, he warned Uber that it could face thousands of dollars in fines if it operated without proper licences. He also promised undercover stings to target unlicensed drivers.

The company's UberX service has run into trouble in other Canadian cities for operating without securing taxi licences, but it has so far not launched its UberX service in B.C.

Mr. Stone's office said it had no comment on Mr. Robertson's letter.

Uber Canada said the B.C. government should take legislative action to allow for ride-sharing.

"The [Passenger Transportation Board] was created before ride-sharing existed and as we've seen from court rulings across Canada, ride-sharing is a new business distinct from taxi. That's why we have been working with officials across Canada on updating regulations for ride-sharing," Uber spokeswoman Susie Heath said in a statement, responding to Mr. Robertson's letter to Mr. Stone.

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"Almost 70 jurisdictions in North America have already passed ride-sharing regulations and we are making progress on regulations in Canadian jurisdictions as well. We have shared information on how these models could work in British Columbia, and hope the province will show leadership on this file by bringing forward legislation this spring to fully regulate ride-sharing."

While Mr. Robertson seemed open to Uber, the mayor of the province's second-largest city said there's no place for the service in her community at this time.

"Uber's current operating model does not meet our bylaws as it is not in compliance with provincial regulations through the Passenger Transportation Board," Linda Hepner, the mayor of Surrey, said in an e-mailed statement.

"In order to operate vehicles for hire in B.C., the operator is required to have the appropriate PTB approvals and subsequent city approvals."

Vancouver mayor's letter about ride sharing

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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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