The Editor’s Desk: Ride-hailing roadblock

The absence of ride-hailing is not just a big city issue; it also affects small rural communities

The long journey toward getting ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft into British Columbia has been less a march and more a long, hard slog, as first the provincial Liberals and then the NDP/Greens hemmed and hawed and delayed for seven years. For a time after the 2017 B.C. election it looked highly likely that the implementation of ride-hailing would continue to be pushed further and further down the road indefinitely.

This summer, however, the provincial government finally gave—if not a green light, then an amber light to the concept, albeit with certain regulations that exist in few, if any, jurisdictions that have happily allowed ride-hailing for years. The most controversial was the insistence that anyone driving for Uber, Lyft, or any other ride-hailing company that might want to set up shop here must have a Class 4 licence, as opposed to most other places, where anyone with a valid driver’s licence can quickly and easily sign up as a driver.

When this announcement came, there was a fear that ride-hailing services might decide not to bother, as the Class 4 requirement drastically reduces the pool of potential drivers. Recently, however, Lyft announced that it planned to apply to provide service in the Lower Mainland, and last week Uber followed suit, also limiting the areas they would serve (an Uber spokesperson said its licence will cover Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish and Lillooet, but added that “the specific communities where Uber would be available will not be finalized until closer to a launch date, based on the number of qualified driver-partners who sign up to use the app”).

At first glance the decision to only offer services in the highly-populated Lower Mainland makes good business sense. However, dig a little deeper, and it quickly becomes apparent that the province’s regulations surrounding ride-hailing are yet another example of provincial politicians who seem to see almost everything through the lens of B.C.’s urban centres ignoring the impact of their decision on the large portion of the province that exists outside the Capital Region/Lower Mainland bubble.

I understand the frustration of Vancouver residents who want to get a taxi but can’t because it’s 1 a.m. and pouring rain. However, anyone wanting to get around Vancouver at most times of day has a wide variety of transit options; options which are not necessarily available in other large centres.

And what about small- to medium-sized communities—of which B.C. has rather a lot—where transit options other than a private vehicle are either slim or none? I would argue that it’s these communities that would, in many ways, most benefit from having ride-hailing, yet these are the communities that are being shut out by Uber and Lyft, who fear they won’t be able to find enough drivers in these areas to make providing the service achievable or financially viable.

Which brings us full circle to why they have those fears, which are due to the regulations imposed by the B.C. government. Because of these, a service that could potentially be of huge benefit to many people living in small, rural, and/or remote communities is unavailable, at least for the time being. A Facebook friend who lives in Ashcroft and works in Cache Creek told me they had to walk to work the other day, a journey that took an hour. Imagine how the story might change if we had ride-hailing here.

I initially thought that the absence or presence of ride-hailing was purely a big city issue, but after paying closer attention to it I realize it’s not. It negatively impacts our small rural communities, and is another example of the provincial government’s seeming inability to comprehend that there’s a lot of B.C. that isn’t in southern Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland, and which has very different needs. Their “one size fits all” approach to ride-hailing certainly doesn’t fit us very well, and sadly, we’re not alone.

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