A leading ride hailing service won’t be coming to Victoria for the time being, prompting a range of local reactions.
Uber announced Wednesday that it plans to apply for a license from the BC Passenger Transportation Board to operate in B.C. after the provincial government had said companies can begin applying for the licence on Sept. 3.
Applications will take about six to eight weeks to process.
Both Uber and and Lyft, which announced it would join the ride-hailing market in B.C. earlier this summer, say they’ll operate only in the Lower Mainland for now.
In an email, an Uber spokesperson said its licence will cover Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish and Lillooet, but “the specific communities where Uber would be available will not be finalized until closer to a launch date, based on the number of qualified driver-partners who sign up to use the app.”
This statement means that Greater Victoria residents won’t be able to use either ride hailing service for now.
Dan Dagg, chair of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said the region has shown a demand for ride hailing, which he described as a “transportation innovation” that appeals to people because of its convenience and cost.
“Greater Victoria has an excellent reputation as a tourist destination and hot bed for technology companies attracted by our quality of life,” he said. “Tourists and business people expect to be able to use ride-hailing services in the places they visit or operate, and we want our region to have modern transportation options.”
Mohan Singh Kang, president of the BC Taxi Association representing the majority of some 40 taxi companies on Vancouver Island, was naturally less enthusiastic about the news of Uber coming to British Columbia.
“My answer is that I’m a taxi guy,” he said. “I have spent all my life in the taxi industry. My concern is always for the best interests of the taxi family.”
This said, Uber’s decision to forgo Greater Victoria for now will benefit the industry. “It will be good for the taxi industry, because it gives them time to prepare for ride hailing companies whenever they start operating in the [Capital Regional District],” he said.
Kang eventually expects ride-hailing to come to Greater Victoria, and he is calling on the provincial government to further level the playing field between traditional tax companies subject to considerable regulations.
“How can you effectively compete?” he asked.
Dagg struck a similar note in defence of local businesses. “We also need to make sure the rules for ride hailing won’t create unfair market conditions for new or existing businesses,” he said.
Local environmentalists, though, are likely to cheer Uber’s current absence from Greater Victoria. Ride-hailing services have long faced the criticism of compounding gridlock. They also stand accused of quietly absolving governments of investing more resources into faster, more efficient public transit options.