Provincial government announces its support for bringing ride-hailing services to BC

On March 7, the provincial government announced its support for bringing ride-hailing services to BC. The timeline is set for the end of 2017, but the legislation for it is “still to be written” according to James Lombardi, the BC Liberal candidate for UBC’s riding (Vancouver-Point Grey).

In response, UBC students seem generally excited about the concept of ride-hailing while remaining critical toward Uber — the top service provider currently — as a company.

“I won’t use Uber due to their mistreatment of employees and inability to deal with sexual harassment,” said Reddit user TheDankeKong in an r/UBC subthread asking for students’ thoughts on the news.

Others viewed the announcement’s timing as a political tool for the BC Liberals to “pander for votes” in the upcoming provincial election on May 9.

The AMS has no official position on this topic. Notably in 2015, they were approached by Uber, who asked for their assistance with government advocacy. However, this request was declined.

“I don’t remember very clearly what was said, but if I were to guess, it was probably because the AMS could only do so much lobbying on so many issues,” said current AMS VP External Kathleen Simpson about the reason for this decision. “It’s very likely that they just didn’t consider it to be a priority for students.”

Ride-hailing vs. ride-sharing

According to Flo Devellennes, the co-founder of Pop Rideshare, the crux of this issue lies at the difference between the definitions of ride-sharing and ride-hailing.

“The true definition of ride-sharing is when you’re actually sharing a ride with people and you share the cost,” said Devellennes. “Our drivers don’t make money. We just help them cover their trip’s cost so [we operate within the definition of carpooling] and they aren’t our employees.”

With ride-hailing services like Uber, “there’s no sharing” because the drivers have to drive wherever the customers want. Furthermore, since drivers do make money in this case, many of them make a living with these services.

In short, ride-hailing services are similar to taxi services.

“This is what's problematic because ICBC hasn’t been able to work with Uber to insure the drivers correctly,” said Devellennes. “Uber is also competing with the taxi industry [without requiring its drivers to pay for taxi licenses].”

Regarding the announcement, he said, “it’s interesting that the government is using [ride-hailing services] as a political tool to get elected,” but also that “it’s inevitable because [they are] better than taxis.”

Political response

For David Eby, the UBC riding’s current NDP MLA, the announcement was “quite distasteful” despite his support for ride-hailing.

“The government wanted to do this for a year and yet no concrete proposal from them, and then there’s a press conference to put a jam on the donation scandal,” he said. “If the government is serious, then they would be putting forward a bill to be debated in the legislature.”

In particular, Eby is waiting for details on how the government would support small start-ups, ensure access for people with disabilities, protect drivers’ rights and minimize the impact on families who depend on taxis.

While acknowledging that “this isn’t something that will be finalized before the election,” Lombardi responded that the government has outlined some important steps. For instance, there will be an investment of $1 million into building an app for taxis and “changes to the insurance framework have been made” to accommodate ride-hailing services.

He also addressed the criticism toward Uber as an argument against ride-hailing.

“Every company would have to follow the law,” said Lombardi. “This is not about one company … but about creating a framework that would innovate BC’s transportation system.

“In November of last year, we heard from the cabinet saying that ride-sharing is inevitable, but I think they just wanted to ensure that it is brought in the right way,” he said. “That’s why multiple years of consultation have been going on with the various stakeholders across BC.”