Uber and Lyft get the green light to operate in Vancouver

After much anticipation and debate by the province, ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft have been approved to operate in Vancouver.

In a media release issued on January 23, the BC Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) — an independent licensing tribunal which makes decisions related to passenger-directed vehicles — gave the two companies approval to begin operations in the Lower Mainland and Whistler.

The NDP government approved ride-hailing in July, 2019, but the companies still needed approval from the PTB before they could operate.

Ride-hailing companies will have to have their insurance approved by ICBC and obtain business licence to comply with municipal bylaws in the cities they operate in. All Uber and Lyft drivers operating in Vancouver will also have to obtain a Class 4 driver’s licence, which is the same licence required by taxi drivers.

While PTB approved Uber and Lyft, they have not approved other ride hailing services such as ReRyde and Kater Technologies who were hoping to set up operations in Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. Overall, PTB received 29 ride-sharing applications from different companies.

In a written statement to The Ubyssey, Peter Lukomskyj, the general manager of Lyft in BC said the company was excited to start the process of setting up in the Lower Mainland.

“Lyft thanks the provincial government and the Passenger Transportation Board for their dedication in establishing the framework to make operations possible. We are working to secure our provincial and municipal business licences and will soon announce our operating area and launch service,” said Lukomskyj.

Previously, Lyft and Uber had not been allowed to operate in Vancouver due to lobbying from taxi companies who felt that ride-sharing companies would make for an unfair marketplace. The sector called for a cap on ride-share vehicles and restrictions on surge pricing, which they called “predatory.”

In a statement to the Vancouver Sun, Michael van Hemmen, head of Uber’s western division, said the company is also in the process of obtaining ICBC insurance and a business licence from the City of Vancouver.

“We hope to launch very soon … In the meantime, we encourage all qualified drivers with a Class 4 licence to sign up on the Uber app at drive.uber.com so they can start earning money as soon as operations begin,” wrote van Hemmen.

But PTB ruled that surge pricing is simply a way to take advantage of market forces.

“Dynamic pricing is the mechanism by which the supply of vehicles is adjusted to respond to passenger demand,” said the PTB in its Licence Application Decision.

“The intended effect of dynamic pricing is to reduce wait times at peak periods by incentivizing drivers and to lower costs at off peak periods to encourage trips. The Board does not accept the submission that dynamic pricing is discriminatory in purpose or effect. The price of countless goods and services are dictated by market conditions.”

Students react

Commenters on r/UBC were both excited and wary of the news.

“About. Fxxxing. Time,” commented Reddit user yaynornayalpha.

But another user warned against Uber and Lyft’s exploitative employment practices.

“Hooray, more corporations get to exploit people as 'contractors' instead of 'employees' while making them pay for the costs (car depreciation, gas, phone plan, etc),” commented Reddit user hadesfan1337.

The state of California recently passed a bill that will require app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft to treat their workers as employees rather than contractors. The decision is meant to increase job security for workers in the gig economy.

In a written statement, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena said the government has worked to ensure safety standards are in place through the province’s roll-out of ride-hailing.

“Over the last two years, our government has been diligent in developing a framework that puts passenger safety first, and we remained steadfast against pressures to abandon the safety measures we put in place,” reads the statement.

“We will continue to support a passenger transportation industry that gets people safely where they need to go and ensures sustainable livelihoods for drivers.”

UBC has also been preparing for the arrival ride-hailing services and an expectation of more cars on campus.

A map on Campus + Community Planning's website outlines designated pick-up and drop-off spots for ride-hailing cars, and the university will be charging companies fees for operating on campus.

“UBC is charging fees to support our sustainable transportation policy objectives and manage traffic congestion on campus while balancing affordability considerations,” reads the website.

“Fees collected will be used to support programs and infrastructure that encourage sustainable transportation.”

This article has been updated to include information on UBC's ride-hailing plan.