Uber ups pressure on B.C. government

Fassbender says province won't be stampeded in its 'careful' review of possible sharing economy reforms

Uber is intensifying its pressure on the B.C. government to plow past taxi industry objections and allow it to launch its ride-hailing service in B.C. cities.

The U.S. firm bought radio ads this week highlighting long waits for taxis in Metro Vancouver suburbs and released an open letter to the premier urging the province to “embrace the future and act on ride-sharing this spring.”

It comes after Communities Minister Peter Fassbender in January pledged careful consultations on the issue – particularly with taxi firms – before developing a made-in-B.C. solution that would preserve some role for traditional taxis.

Uber Canada general manager Ian Black said in the letter to Christy Clark that 100,000 B.C. residents and another 125,000 tourists opened the Uber app in B.C. last year to try to use the service.

He argued the ride-hailing industry would let thousands of people earn money on their own schedule driving their own cars, while reducing drunk driving through more reliable late-night transportation and expanding the reach of transit networks.

Uber also added a “future view” to its app for residents in Metro Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna to project how quickly an Uber car could arrive and what fare it would charge if B.C.’s policy changed.

Fassbender says he won’t be stampeded.

“It is not changing our direction and position that we’re going to do it carefully and wisely,” he said in an interview.

Fassbender said the province’s main goal is to give consumers choice, while ensuring their safety through regulations and mandatory insurance.

“Our second objective is to make sure we respect the taxi industry and the investments they’ve made in their families and in their communities so whatever we do is as close to a level playing field as it can be.”

While Uber is the most urgent issue, Fassbender’s review is also to examine other “sharing economy” issues, such as the rise of unregulated vacation rental service Airbnb.

“Clearly there is increasing pressure as a result of some of the things that have been happening in communities like Vancouver that Airbnb is being talked about more, as well as its effect on the availability of housing and the cost of housing,” Fassbender said.

He is to meet with Metro Vancouver’s board to discuss the review Friday morning.

Uber halted service in Edmonton after the city council there passed restrictive bylaws, which allow only conventional taxis to be hailed from the street, not Uber drivers.

B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang called Uber’s tactics a gimmick.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “They should be making sure they can address the public safety issue, including having adequate insurance, having training, looking after people with disabilities and seniors.”

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