MLAs have ubers and ubers of questions about ridehailing

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From accessibility to fair competition to surge pricing, B.C. politicians tussle with how to regulate apps.

By: Jen St Denis Metro Published on Mon Jan 08 2018 06:43:00

Will B.C. finally get Uber in 2018?

While the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. Greens have both been pushing for the province to say yes to ridehailing apps like Uber, the NDP have decided to do another round of consultations before putting a regulatory framework in place.

Here are some of the questions that came up on the first day of the hearings.

Surge pricing

Using the example of an Edmonton man who was charged over $1,000 for a New Year’s Eve ride in 2016, NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert asked whether a price cap needs to be put into place to prevent price gouging. “It just seems unethical to me,” he said.

Michael van Hemmen, an Uber Canada representative, told Chandra Herbert that Uber has recently made changes that allow customers to see what they’ll be charged. But, he said, Uber will continue to use surge pricing, because it’s a way of incentivizing more drivers to work in busy locations and times.

When more drivers come out, van Hemmen said, the price starts to drop. And when Uber’s algorithm puts surge pricing in place because of an emergency situation in a city, customers get refunds, van Hemmen said.


B.C.’s taxi industry urged the politicians to adopt the same regulatory framework for ridehailing apps as for the conventional taxi industry, meaning the same vehicle inspections and driver training.

Don Guilbrault, the general manager of Greencab in Surrey, said he’d heard from several Richmond taxi drivers that competition from multiple illegal operators in that city is “killing out business.”

But Val Litwin of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce argued against overly onerous requirements for extra training, a medical check for ridehailing app drivers or a requirement that they have anything other than a Class 5 licence.


B.C. taxis are currently required to have a certain ratio of wheelchair accessible vehicles. Stephanie Cadieux, Liberal MLA for Surrey-Panorama, had some pointed questions for van Hemmen when it came to whether Uber could provide the same level of service.

“There is almost no jurisdiction in North America that has better accessible service than British Columbia, especially if you look at Vancouver,” said Cadieux. “So we’re looking at a possibility of going backwards from a percentage of available transportation, and I’m concerned that you’re going to incentivize service not being provided by adding to the competition.”

Van Hemmen responded that Uber has partnered with cab companies or other organizations in some cities to look at ways to more efficiently use wheelchair accessible vehicles.


To operate in B.C., van Hemmen said the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) would have to create a new insurance product that would allow Uber drivers to use personal insurance for their vehicle when they’re using it for everday use, and commercial insurance that would kick in as soon as they accepted a ride on the app.

But Mohan Singh Kang of the B.C. Taxi Association argued that it’s “unfair for general public to subsidize insurance for (ridehailing).”

Rural communities

Staff from the small town of Enderby, B.C. (population 2,964) presented to the committee by telephone, saying they hope ridehailing apps could provide better transportation for their town.

Van Hemmen said Uber wants to be able to operate in small towns, but hasn’t yet “completely cracked the nut” on offering service to small communities that aren’t located near large cities.