Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is facing criticism after he told a crowd of taxi drivers he plans to deny business licenses to ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, particularly since the province has said municipalities won’t have the power to block operators.
“The cities actually have one tool in their back pocket and I’m going to use it in Surrey, and that is that every ride-sharing company needs to have a business license to operate in the City of Surrey,” McCallum said to a meeting of taxi drivers in Vancouver on Tuesday, to much applause.
“We will not be issuing any business licenses to ride-sharing companies in Surrey,” he added.
But lone Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis says that’s a “ridiculous idea.”
“The fact that we don’t have enough transit or cabs to start with makes the Mayor’s idea just another poke in the eye to the thousands of Surrey residents who would use Uber and Lyft,” Annis stated in a release issued Tuesday night, adding that the mayor should be “working for Surrey residents, not (a) handful of taxi owners.”
According to Annis, Surrey needs Uber and Lyft as part of its overall transportation plan.
“We also need more cabs that aren’t burdened by cross-border restrictions between Lower Mainland communities,” she said in her release.
“Surrey is the size of Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby combined, we’re a big place with major transportation and transit needs and that includes ride hailing as part of the solution. The public is getting fed up at being forgotten in this whole discussion. Riders and consumers should come first.”
Annis is calling on the provincial government “to step in and tell the Mayor that ride hailing is, in fact, coming to the Lower Mainland, including Surrey, this fall, period.”
“Competition in this sector is definitely healthy because it will benefit riders and consumers,” she said in her release. “Frankly, I think it’s the consumer’s turn to take the lead and that means getting Uber and Lyft in Surrey right away. Like thousands of Surrey residents I’m looking forward to ride hailing and plan to use it when it’s here.”
Anita Huberman, Surrey Board of Trade CEO, also slammed the mayor’s comments, saying her group has been “huge advocates of needing ride-hailing not only in Surrey but also in British Columbia.”
“In Surrey we need alternative transportation options. SkyTrain’s not going to be here for a while. How are people going to get around? To say no to ride-hailing will impact economic development,” she told the Now-Leader Wednesday. “With a third of the popualtion is under the age of 19, young people are looking for ways to get around the city which is large geographically.”
Huberman noted the board of trade is “trying to make Surrey a music city destination.”
“So when people are enjoying live music at night, they have a safe way to get home. You can’t always rely on a designated driver to get you home or even a taxi,” she sad. “We need transportation alternatives. It’s going to be 2020 soon, let’s get ride-hailing.”
This past January, B.C.’s Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena said McCallum’s opposition to ride hailing is something he’ll “have to work through.”
“We’re looking at provincial regulations and how we can make sure that at-base ride hailing is going to work in B.C. and that’s our priority,” Trevena told the Now-Leader at the time. “What happens in various jurisdictions I think is something the mayor is going to have to work through, but we’re looking at a provincial model.”
The Passenger Transportation Board has the sole authority over PVDS (Passenger Directed Vehicles), including taxis, limousines, shuttles and ride-hailing operators.
The province says municipalities may not prohibit such drivers from operating in their municipalities, and that bylaws banning operators will “have no effect once the ride-hailing framework comes into effect on September 16, 2019.”
McCallum has been vocal in his opposition to ride-hailing operators for months. In late August, he issued a statement emphasizing that.
“These new regulations would allow ride-hailing companies the ability to pick up across boundaries, while the taxi industry must abide by limits,” the statement read. “This would create an unlevel playing field. I am also not in favour of allowing unlimited fleet size for ride-hailing companies. This lack of regulation will negatively impact the environment and increase congestion. It will also negatively impact the existing taxi industry, who has loyally served Metro Vancouver’s residents for decades.”
McCallum did not respond to a request for an interview but an emailed statement was provided through the Mayor’s Office Wednesday morning.
“My opposition to ride-hailing companies comes down to fairness,” the statement reads. “Taxi companies adhere to regulations and restrictions. If ride-hailing companies are allowed to operate with no limits, it would create an unlevel playing field. An unfair market environment would impact the livelihoods of taxi drivers and their families. It is imperative that both ride-hailing companies and the taxi industry should be subject to the same regulations and restrictions, anything less is unacceptable.”
In response to McCallum’s comments, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure sent an emailed statement to the Now-Leader, reaffirming that provincial law “restricts the authority of municipalities to regulate the supply and boundaries of taxis and ride hail vehicles.”
The statement adds that Trevena has “heard the concerns of Mayor McCallum and other stakeholders and has written to the Passenger Transportation Board to relay their concerns.”
“We will continue our work to provide the services people have been asking for in a safe and responsible way that considers the effects of congestion and the livelihoods of those in the taxi industry,” the statement adds.
-With files from Tom Zytaruk.