The potential Halloween arrival of a smartphone-based ride service has established taxi companies spooked, and B.C. politicians warning about the consequences for passenger safety and the viability of local businesses.
Ride sharing businesses such as Uber are welcome in B.C. as long as they follow the same rules as taxi and limousine companies, including a chauffeur driver's licence, inspection and taxi licensing required by provincial law, Transportation Minister Todd Stone says.
Stone said Uber tried to operate in B.C. in 2012 but didn't acquire licenses and was shut down by a cease-and-desist order from the ministry's Passenger Transportation Branch, which regulates taxis. He called a news conference after reports that Uber was restarting operations in Vancouver, where customers frequently complain they can't get a taxi on busy weekend nights.
Stone said anyone caught regularly providing rides for money without a taxi licence faces a fine up to $1,000. If they are in an accident, their passengers are covered by third-party liability insurance, but ICBC warns that the driver or vehicle owner takes the insurance risk.
A driver in an accident while working for Uber would likely be found in breach of ICBC insurance terms, and could be required to repay claims made against the driver as well as for the driver's own injuries and vehicle damage, said ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman.
NDP leader John Horgan called his own news conference at the legislature, flanked by representatives of Victoria cab companies. Horgan is introducing a private members' bill next week that calls for fines to be raised as high as $20,000.
Sean Convy, general manager of Victoria Taxi, said there are multiple cases of personal injury lawsuits against Uber, which takes revenues from taxi companies but whose drivers don't meet the same regulations.
"We pay on average $12-15,000 per vehicle a year to be safe on the roads," Convy said. "That's an assurance that the passengers jumping into our vehicles can give to themselves when they ride with us."
Uber invites private vehicle owners to sign up and takes a 20 per cent share of fares they collect. Customers download a smartphone app that identifies where and when they want a ride and pay the fare through the Uber network.