British Columbia

Surrey will fine Uber drivers $500 a day, warns Mayor Doug McCallum

McCallum says the City of Surrey has not issued Uber a business licence and it is operating illegally. But the province says Surrey can't block ride-hailing companies.

Bylaw officers issued 18 warning tickets to drivers over the weekend

Uber has been operating in Surrey, B.C., since receiving approval last week from B.C.'s independent Passenger Transportation Board. The city's mayor says the company is operating illegally without a city business licence. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The City of Surrey will begin ticketing and fining Uber drivers $500 a day as of Tuesday if they operate within city boundaries, Mayor Doug McCallum said Monday, escalating the battle between the city and province over who gets to greenlight ride-hailing.

The company has been operating in the city since receiving approval last week from the province's independent Passenger Transportation Board. 

But McCallum, a longstanding ally of the taxi industry, said Surrey has not issued Uber a business licence and claimed the company is operating illegally.

"If a predator comes in an industry that's highly regulated and doesn't do a level playing field and ignores a lot of the laws of those cities, you would expect any mayor to stand up for their residents," the mayor said at a news conference Monday.

The mayor vehemently doubled down on his stance in a followup interview Tuesday morning.

"I'll stand up for my citizens any day because they're going to lose their jobs over this.... There's families they support," McCallum said. "All of a sudden the government comes and lets [ride-hailing] companies come in with very few regulations — and certainly not the same as what governments have put on the taxi industry — and that's not fair."

The province said municipalities can set requirements for business licences, but they don't have the authority to outright block ride-hailing companies.

"The absence of a bylaw or business licence in specific municipalities related to ride-hailing is not grounds for refusal of the service," a spokesperson for B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation said in a statement.

Listen to Mayor Doug McCallum promising fines and defending his decision to block ride-hailing:

'They told me I can not drive in Surrey'

The city ordered Uber on Friday to stop operating until council takes a position on ride-hailing business licences, but the company said it "respectfully" declined.

McCallum said the city gave Uber a grace period over the weekend by issuing 18 warning tickets to drivers. 

The mayor said city council didn't have the chance to consider business licences before ride-hailing hit the road.

"Our council has not had time — because they started operating, illegally, so quickly — to look at this," the mayor said in a later interview with CBC's The Early Edition on Tuesday.

"Until these business licences are sorted out, Uber is operating illegally in Surrey."

Shawn Zhao, 54, said he was scared when he received a warning Sunday morning while driving for Uber.

When he arrived at the customer's location, three city bylaw officers were waiting for him, Zhao said. They asked for his driver's licence and insurance. 

"Then they told me I cannot drive in Surrey," he said.

Shawn Zhao said Surrey bylaw officers issued him this warning Sunday while he was driving for Uber. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

McCallum said Tuesday the purported bylaw traps were not his idea.

"I don't know [who thought of that]," he said.

Uber said the mayor is threatening fines that have no legal basis. 

The company said the Uber app will continue to be available in its service area in Surrey and it will be preparing legal action to defend the right to access the app.

Surrey Coun. Jack Hundial, who supports Uber, offered to pay the first $500 fine for any driver who receives a ticket.

"That will hopefully get the conversation going about what the legality of this and what are the rules around this," he said.

"If we're going after one category of business that does not have a business license, then we should be going after all of them if that's the path that we are choosing to go down. We can't be selectively enforcing for just one or two business licenses."

Waiting on region-wide licence

Vancouver already issued business licences last week to Uber and its competitor Lyft, which is only operating for now in Vancouver's core.

But McCallum said Surrey is waiting on a TransLink meeting this Thursday, when Metro Vancouver officials are set to receive a report about a region-wide business license for ride-hailing companies.

Council also needs to hammer out the business license details, McCallum said, although he said he did not intend to raise a motion at Monday night's meeting.

McCallum said he wants to ensure a level playing field for the city's sizable taxi industry, arguing cab drivers face higher insurance and city fees than their Uber counterparts and more stringent safety regulations.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has been a longstanding ally of the taxi industry. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I have heard some opponents say that I am pandering to the taxi industry. That is not true," he said. 

"What I am concerned about and what I am fighting for is the livelihoods of all those who are employed in the taxi industry."

Uber said ride-hailing is not a taxi service, according to provincial law.

It said it supports a regional business licence and is committed to working with municipalities to find interim solutions.

With files from Lien Yeung, CBC's The Early Edition and The Canadian Press

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