Fassbender fields questions, concerns on Uber

Communities minister talks ride-sharing reform challenge with Metro Vancouver politicians

  • Apr. 1, 2016 12:00 p.m.

Communities Minister Peter Fassbender shed more light in a Friday meeting with Metro Vancouver politicians on how the B.C. government may give ride-hailing app Uber room to operate without an unfettered free-for-all that could wipe out the taxi industry.

The minister – who took questions from Metro directors for nearly an hour on Uber and other issues – didn’t outline a detailed regulation scenario, but said he has urged the taxi industry to consider a unified dispatch system that could operate under a common smartphone app.

“They need to work better together,” Fassbender said. “We’ve challenged them to say you have to lift your game up too.”

He wants input from Metro and individual municipalities to help the province as it draws up potential options.

Many taxis are low-emission electric hybrids or accessible to people with disabilities and many have cameras to help protect drivers and passengers.

Some Metro directors questioned how those progressive improvements won’t unravel if Uber drivers can operate any vehicle, and if the province will pay to enforce any new regulations or let that fall to cities.

Fassbender acknowledged those concerns and noted Australia charges a levy on fares to fund more accessible vehicles.

“There are many models around the world in terms of taxes and revenues that flows out of ride sharing opportunities,” he said. “We’re going to look at all of that and how we fund whatever we need to ensure we protect the riders.”

Fassbender said he wants any passenger who boards any hired vehicle to be confident that it’s insured, safe and the driver has had criminal record checks.

“Uber is here to make money,” Fassbender said. “That’s their business model. And they’ll do everything they can to make as much money as they can. But we have a responsibility to look at all of those kinds of issues.”

One director questioned how B.C. could collect tax on transactions that happen on a company’s system in the U.S.

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Peter Fassbender

Fassbender said he’s had “very good experience” with Uber in the U.S. but has also met Uber drivers there and left with concerns about liability, insurance, training, licensing and vehicle maintenance.

He also said taxi firms and individual owner-operators here have different views on the issue as well, adding he has gone to the airport to meet privately with cabbies without their supervisors.

The minister said he wants to learn in particular from other jurisdictions that initially allowed ride-sharing services in then had to “back off” because of problems.

Fassbender said he has no specific timeline to complete the sharing economy review he was assigned by the premier in January. Nor, he said, is the government trying to time a decision around the next election for political advantage.

Several mayors urged Fassbender to act quickly. Uber has also begun heavily advertising to marshall support and to recruit prospective B.C. drivers.

“The pressure I feel is to do it right,” Fassbender said. “We’re not reluctant to move if we make the moves for the right reasons and we look at all the implications.”

Any regulations to reform the passenger transportation industry would likely be province-wide, he added.

Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said what Uber brings is not so much unique technology but an unregulated workforce that would have no protection or benefits if the company gets what it wants.

“Minister, this is going to be a race to the bottom,” he warned.

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said he welcomes what appears to be the province’s more cautious approach to the issue now, adding his council has “significant reservations” about Uber.

“When they first started talking about it it looked like this was something that was going to be pushed through really quickly,” Coté said. “I think they have come to recognize this is actually a much more complicated and difficult issue maybe than was first anticipated.”

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