VANCOUVER — British Columbia will allow ride-hailing services such as Uber to operate in the province by the end of this year, while introducing initiatives that it says will help the taxi industry remain competitive.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the province consulted extensively with residents and the taxi industry to create a "made-in-B.C." solution for ride-hailing.
"The proposed changes reflect what we've heard from stakeholders, such as the need to address the public's desire for choice, convenience and competition (and) the need to protect passenger and driver safety," he said.
The province said it will move to create a level playing field for cab companies, including investing $1 million to help the industry create an app that would allow the public to hail and pay for a taxi the same way they would with a ride-hailing service.
Uber will be an B.C. by the end of 2017, according to Transportation Minister Todd Stone. (Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters)
It will also give taxis exclusive rights to street hailing and work with municipal governments to reduce red tape and address the current shortages of taxis and vehicles for hire.
B.C.'s vehicle insurance corporation, ICBC, will invest up to $3.5 million in the taxi sector to install crash avoidance technology in all taxis in a bid to improve passenger safety. It will also make insurance more affordable for drivers.
The Vancouver Taxi Association swiftly promised to fight the province's plan any way it could.
Gov't ignored our interests: taxi association
Spokeswoman Carolyn Bauer told radio station News1130 that countless taxi drivers have gone into "enormous debt" by purchasing an operating licence and they will have no way to pay it back under the new framework.
"We are not opposed to changes to meet the public's interest but ... the government has completely ignored our interests and we will use every available legal and political means available to us to fight this unfair government initiative."
Taxi licenses in Vancouver were in such short supply that they were valued at up to $800,000 three years ago. But the cost has reportedly fallen with ongoing uncertainty about Uber's entry into the market.
Uber released a short statement in which it said British Columbians want and need access to more safe, affordable, reliable transportation.
This is a 'step forward' for B.C.: Uber
"Today's announcement is a step forward by the provincial government and we're encouraging all parties in British Columbia to commit to bringing forward progressive regulations that embrace ride-sharing in 2017," it said.
More than 80 per cent of delegates at the B.C. Liberal convention last fall supported the creation of ride-hailing legislation.
However, Vancouver has placed a moratorium on new cabs and Uber until October, with some councillors voicing concerns about passenger safety and protecting the local taxi industry.
The province said it will require the same safety standards for both taxis and ride-hailing providers. It will also ensure that safeguards are in place to provide consumers with fair and transparent pricing, it said in a statement.
"We've seen issues arise in other jurisdictions that have rushed to incorporate ride-sharing," Stone said. "Our approach over the next nine months will be to continue to be very thoughtful and very deliberate."
A taxi driver holds a sign reading "Uber violates laws and tax laws; arrest them" as he and other taxi drivers begin their protest against Uber in Montreal, on Oct. 5, 2016. (Photo: Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
Uber has been controversial in other provinces, including Quebec, where a class-action lawsuit filed by taxi companies and drivers against the company was certified in January.
The business community in B.C. applauded the decision.
"Businesses, residents and visitors across the Lower Mainland have made it clear they want more choice and more innovation in their transportation options," Greater Vancouver Board of Trade's president Iain Black said in a statement.
"We're encouraged to see this issue gaining some momentum forward."
With files from News1130