Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is in favour of ride-sharing services such as Uber as long as it’s fair, equitable and in partnership with local taxi companies.
“Uber is working in conjunction with the province to find a fair and equitable way to enter the B.C. market,” Helps said. “They’re going to work with the provincial government and I fully support that. It has to be fair and equitable for Uber drivers, Uber passengers and our taxi industry.”
Uber is a mobile ride hail company that allows people to submit a trip request, which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars to transport passengers.
But the service hasn’t been without controversy. The taxi industry has spoken out against Uber, saying the service will push taxi drivers off the road and put their livelihood in jeopardy.
Despite the controversy, Edmonton became the first city in Canada to approve new regulations to legalize Uber in late January.
However, not just anyone with a car can start picking up passengers. Uber drivers will need a provincially-approved license, criminal record checks and annual vehicle inspections. Violators could face $5,000 in fines.
Passengers who hail cars from the street, at cab stands or call dispatchers can only be picked up by taxis, not Uber cars, allowing cabs to operate the way they normally would.
Since Edmonton’s move to legalize the controversial ride-sharing service, B.C. has been looking at ways it could potentially bring Uber to local streets.
Premier Christy Clark has assigned Communities Minister Peter Fassbender to consult with municipalities across the province and the taxi industry to come up with a model that could be suitable.
“We’re in a different environment in B.C. with ICBC and the whole insurance side of how this province operates,” Fassbender told Black Press, adding the province is looking at jurisdictions all over the world as potential models. “So there’s lots of work that has to be done.”
In Victoria, Helps is in favour of the service, and is keeping an eye on how Uber rolls out in Edmonton to use as a potential roadmap, if successful.
“I think the sharing economy is the way of the future. It’s an opportunity for many people to be not just consumers of services, but also producers of services,” she said, adding she’s received emails from a number of people in the tech sector in favour of Uber.
“Uber is an example of the surplus capacity of an automobile that’s not used all the time that can be turned into a way of producing income. There’s no point in fighting it. We may as well embrace it and figure out a way for it to work for everyone.”
Helps also noted the importance of provincial leadership, especially in the capital region where it would be “utterly cumbersome” for each municipality to come up with its own rules and regulations with regard to Uber.
Michael Westeroth, manager of operations with Bluebird Cabs Victoria, said he doesn’t have a problem with competition as long as everyone abides by the same licensing and regulations.
“Depending on how it all goes down, I think our drivers are going to find they’re making less income and I think they will probably be taking a serious look at moving on to do other things other than driving taxis,” he said.
— with files from Jeff Nagel