VANCOUVER – The British Columbia government says it will ease into allowing ride-hailing services in the province, laying the groundwork for the new rides to enter the market as early as the fall of 2019.
In the meantime, Transport Minister Claire Trevena said the government will increase the number of taxis on the streets to help people get a safe ride and allow for flexible fares for existing taxi firms that arrange rides using apps.
The idea is to make sure the existing taxi industry is ready and able to compete on a level playing field when new players are introduced, she said.
Allowing services such as Uber and Lyft into the province by the end of 2017 was a promise by the NDP government during the last election, but Trevena would not commit to a new deadline during a news conference Thursday.
“I know that people are looking for expanded transportation options to be available very soon and I want to reassure them that a lot of work is happening to get this accomplished, but it is important that we get this right,” she said.
The government says it expects applications from firms to be submitted to the Passenger Transportation Board by September 2019, after it introduces new legislation this fall opening the process.
After it was elected, the NDP government hired expert Dan Hara to consult with the industry and stakeholders and his report along with recommendations from an all-party legislative committee will be used to modernize the Passenger Transportation Act.
Hara’s report recommends allowing existing taxi companies a one-time immediate window to increase their fleets by 15 per cent.
That would mean up to 300 more cabs in Metro Vancouver and another 200 around the province, the government said.
Hara also recommended giving the taxi industry the opportunity to offer discounted fares when trips are booked through an app and funding accessible taxi services through a per-trip fee that new drivers would be charged.
A group of businesses and organizations advocating for ride-hailing services said the announcement represented the first positive step toward opening the market to ride-hailing companies in B.C.
Any movement toward ride-hailing is better late than never, said Ian Tostenson, a member of Ridesharing Now for BC. “We are very, very happy about what we heard from the minister today. I think the government is taking a cautious approach to this, which is fine,” Tostenson said. “This is not about ride-sharing like Lyft and Uber at the expense of taxis, this is about the whole economy.”