British Columbia’s provincial government announced Monday that ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, should be able to begin operating as early as September 16th.
The much-awaited approval comes after years of delay from the former government that saw many citizens annoyed over regulations that were preventing access to their preferred means of transportation.
“British Columbians have been asking and waiting for these services after more than five years of delay by the former government,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena stated. “We took action to allow for the services people want and we’re delivering on that promise,”
However, it appears there will be a twist. Rather than only needing approval from the ride-hailing company, those offering their transportation services will be required to obtain a Class 4 commercial license, “a requirement supported by B.C.’s police chiefs association, but that was not recommended by a legislative committee tasked with making recommendations for ride-hailing,” the Vancouver Sun reports.
The requirements are much more stringent than in places like Ontario where the minimum requirements to work for a company like Uber are essentially follow the law, have a registered car, and have a full license.
Nonetheless, NDP MLA Bowinn Ma says, “the Class 4 requirement is non-negotiable”, adding that “we believe that it is our responsibility as the government to ensure that any public consumer service like this is held to a standard that they can rely on and trust in.”
Her concerns are not entirely misplaced. In April 2018, a woman sued Uber for $10M dollars after being sexually assaulted by her driver, an experience which has been shared by a number of other passengers. “At least 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and dozens of criminal and civil cases are pending,” the Verge reports.
Certainly, the provincial government’s new precautions would prevent at least some of these crimes. However, there are also questions stemming from the entanglement of a private business with government, as well as what the effect will be on the quality of service.
“What I’m worried about is if (ICBC) is staffed up, geared up and trained up to handle the onslaught of people (applying for Class 4),” Ian Tostenson of Ridesharing Now for B.C. said in response to the decision. “I hope they’ve anticipated this because you can imagine all the road tests that would happen for Class 4, and you have to have qualified (ICBC driver) examiners —and where are you going to get those guys?”
Subsequently, managing director of Lyft Canada Aaron Zifkin has aired his own concerns:
Ninety-one percent of the drivers on our platform drive less than 20 hours a week. These are people like single moms, students in school and people trying to supplement their incomes. As soon as you introduce that Class 4 commercial licence, these people tend not to apply for that type of work.
As per usual, concerns between the public and private sectors are at odds, with one favouring safety, and regulation and the other favouring efficiency, and quality. Regardless, British Columbians will finally have reasonable alternatives to their taxis.