Uber is preparing to take legal action against the City of Surrey to “defend the right to access Uber’s apps” in this city despite what Mayor Doug McCallum says.
“Uber has filed for an injunction with the Supreme Court of British Columbia to stop the City of Surrey from issuing illegal tickets,” Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s Head of Western Canada, revealed in a press statement Tuesday. “The city’s actions are unfair to local residents who want to earn money and support their families, It is also unfair to those who need a safe, affordable and reliable ride.”
He said the injunction being sought is based on two key points: The first is the City of Surrey doesn’t have the authority to prevent Uber and similar companies from operating here, and the second is that McCallum has publicly stated that even if there was a Transportation Network Service business licence – which there is not – the city will not issue a business licence to a ridesharing company.
On Monday McCallum told reporters 18 warnings had been issued to Uber drivers to desist. “For those who continue to operate in Surrey,” McCallum said during a press conference at city hall, “there will no longer be any warning tickets and any violators caught will be ticketed and face a fine of $500.”
The mayor argues that taxi drivers are also trying to support their families and need a “level playing field” with ride-hailing services.
A Tuesday press release from the ride-hailing company, which is locking horns with McCallum over its right to do business in Surrey, said the Uber app “will continue to be available to the residents and visitors of Surrey” within its service area.
“It is highly unfortunate that the mayor is threatening drivers with fines that have no legal basis,” Uber’s statement reads. It notes that Premier John Horgan and Transporation Minister Claire Trevena have been “very clear that municipalities do not have the authority to prevent ridesharing companies from operating.”
McCallum came out swinging Monday afternoon, calling a presser to outline the city’s position on Uber operating here without a business licence, to which Uber maintains there is no licence it “could apply for or obtain.”
According to provincial law, Uber notes, “ridesharing is not taxi.”
“Uber is supportive of the Inter-Municipal Business Licence,” its statement reads, “and looks forward to obtaining an IMBL when it becomes available.”
McCallum has positioned himself as the champion of the cab industry. He told reporters the taxi industry faces a cap of 2,500 cabs in Metro Vancouver while ride hailing companies face no caps.
“That’s not fair,” McCallum said. “There’s no level playing field.”
He said Uber and other ride-hailing operations “can apply for the same licence taxis apply for.
“There is an option to do that.”
“All we want is a level playing field, and then we welcome ride hailing on an equal basis,” McCallum said. “It’s free enterprise.”
On Monday night, Councillor Linda Annis presented a notice of motion instructing city staff to prepare a report on ride hailing for council’s next meeting, “with some recommendations.”
McCallum said the city doesn’t want to end up in court over this. “From Surrey’s point of view, we will not be doing any court challenges of it, but we will defend our right to make sure that in our highly regulated industry the people that are involved, the corporations that are involved, are given the same level playing field.”
On Tuesday, again at city hall, McCallum was once again peppered with questions on ride hailing, such as his response to Uber’s threat of legal action.
“I think we always received threats of legal action on a lot of tickets that our bylaw officers do,” he said. “That’s what all cities have.”
“No, I have no concerns,” he told a reporter who asked about Uber’s threat. “Council just went over, probably over 150 lawsuits, on Monday, or I don’t say lawsuits but legal things against us. Big cities have those things. In fact Surrey has probably fewer than a lot of big cities, we’re the 12th largest in Canada. We get lawsuits all the time.”
Meantime, David Clement, North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center, which represents consumers in more than 100 countries, says going after Uber drivers “does nothing but hurt consumer choice and put public safety at risk.
“We know from peer-reviewed research that for every month ride sharing is legal, impaired driving arrests decline by eight per cent,” Clement said. “Mayor McCallum may say that he is trying to protect community safety, but the reality is that he is just trying to protect the taxi industry from competition. This is cronyism on full display.”
Bob Bose, who served as Surrey’s mayor from 1988 until 1996, when he was defeated by McCallum, noted there has been no policy yet adopted by city council concerning the licensing of ride-hailing drivers and companies.
“The administration is acting, it would appear, solely on directives from the mayor’s office,” he said. “This is an important policy issue and staff should not be ticketing providers of the service without an established policy framework, that requires council approval.”