Are British Columbians likely to be calling up an Uber anytime soon? It’s anyone’s guess, as the NDP government keeps stalling on its campaign promise to bring back ride-sharing.
And now that veteran civil servant Catherine Read has been appointed chair of the province’s Passenger Transportation Board, the issue is getting another dose of intrigue, as Read will be replacing Don Zurowski, who famously nixed Uber’s first foray into Vancouver back in 2012.
From the outside, Uber in Vancouver seems like a no-brainer: Canada’s third biggest metropolis already has a reputation for lousy public transit coupled with too few cabs, and yet, conveniently, it’s also brimming with a tech-savvy populace, thus making ride-sharing seemingly a perfect fit for Silicon Valley North.
Not so, according to Transportation Minister Claire Trevana, who recently stated that more work needs to be done in researching ride-sharing’s public safety and regulatory aspects before making a province-wide call, saying that the province is “getting to the stage where we can assess what to do next.”
When pressed on the issue, the Ministry of Transportation’s response veers between confident and cautious. “The Province is committed to bringing a safe, fair and accessible ‘made in BC’ solution for taxis and other passenger-directed vehicles,” says the Ministry in a statement to Cantech Letter.
On the confident front, the Ministry states that it’s focused on “creating a level playing field for when ride sharing enters the marketplace.”
Yet, at the same time, caution is clearly the name of the game. “We want to understand the social and economic impacts that ride sharing could have on the taxi industry and we want to protect the livelihood of the hard working men and women in this industry,” reads the statement.
At this point, some sympathy may be warranted since stalling on the issue is all the government can do, it appears, as it’s caught between a rock and a virtual taxi stand on the topic.
On the one hand, we have a campaign promise made in the heat of battle to bring in Uber (which, remember, the BC Liberals were also keen on doing before being ousted), a promise that’s presently a might harder to come through on, particularly with the taxi industry, for its part, shaking its collective fist and saying that since they played a big role in getting NDPers elected, quid pro quo, they want their voices heard on the Uber file.
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To the topic, Blacktop and Checker Cabs president Amrik Mahil has said, “Quite clearly, about four seats [in Surrey] are attributed to the taxi industry and trucking,” Mahil said, to CBC News. “They know what will happen to them next time. They won’t form a government and they know that.”
On the other side of the road we have majority-vote tipper, Andrew Weaver from the Green Party, who is now champing at the bit and making clear his intent to draft a bill this fall to allow for digital hail-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. “Vancouver is the largest city in North America without ride-sharing—it is time we finally made this service accessible to British Columbians,” said Weaver.
Now, into the fray flies Read, who has deputy and assistant deputy minister experience in BC and a stint as public service commissioner in Yukon. Read is now donning the oven mitts to handle two hot files: an application from Greyhound to shut down its passenger services to financially draining parts of northern BC and, of course, the one about Uber.
“I am pleased to appoint Catharine Read as the new chair of the Passenger Transportation Board for a three-year term,” writes Minister Trevana in a press release. “Appointing Ms. Read will provide a new opportunity for leadership and perspective in approaching the current issues facing the board.”
And on those issues, good luck to you, Ms. Read.