British Columbia

Uber, Lyft approved to roll out in Lower Mainland, Whistler

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have been approved to operate in the Lower Mainland, including Metro Vancouver, meaning the companies' drivers could be on the road in a matter of days or weeks.

Ride-hailing companies now need insurance and local business licences before they can launch

Uber and Lyft have been approved to operate in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, as well as Whistler. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have been approved to operate in the Lower Mainland, including Metro Vancouver, meaning the companies' drivers could be on the road in a matter of days.

The Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) also gave the companies the green light to operate in Whistler. The board announced its decision in a statement Thursday.

"The decisions were made after a careful review," the statement read.

The approvals are long-awaited for British Columbians who have been clamouring for ride-hailing for the better part of a decade. Premier John Horgan promised the service would be available by the end of 2017, but there were a number of delays as the government worked on its regulatory and safety framework.

"I know people are frustrated. I know people wanted it immediately. I was as frustrated as everyone at the time it seemed to be taking," B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena told reporters Thursday. "But I think people in B.C. can feel very comfortable in the service they'll be getting."

How long until drivers hit the road?

Approval from the PTB is the biggest hurdle for ride-sharing companies hoping to operate in B.C., putting them into the home stretch, but it's not the final step. The companies need insurance from ICBC, and they need local business licences from individual municipalities. 

"As quickly as they can go through those steps, they'll be operating," Trevena said.

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena speaks to reporters about ride-hailing after news of approved applications from Uber and Lyft on Thursday. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Uber expects its drivers to be on the road in Vancouver "in the next few days."

The company said in a statement Thursday it already has a business licence from the City of Vancouver as well as insurance from ICBC. Michael van Hemmen, Uber's head of Western Canada, said the company is waiting on final authorization.

An email from Lyft said the company is working quickly on getting licences.

For ride-sharing companies, gaining approval to operate in the Lower Mainland means approval to do business in the province's most populated region. The Lower Mainland includes Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, and has around three million residents.

The province has said local governments can enact rules and unique fees around drop-off and parking in granting local licences. Communities cannot deny licences to companies.

In Vancouver, a business licence costs $155 for ride-hailing, taxi and limousine companies.

To address congestion, ride-hailing vehicles operating in the city's core between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. will be required to pay 30 cents for each pick up and drop off.

This fee will be reduced by 50 per cent for zero emission vehicles. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are exempt.

The Lions Gate bridge in Vancouver, B.C., links the city with the North Shore. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A regional ride-hailing licence is currently being created for Metro Vancouver in conjunction with TransLink. There are 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver, but the region-wide agreement would mean companies would only have to deal with one business licence.

The TransLink Mayors' Council said it hopes to have an interim set of rules for the licence in place by the end of January, with a full framework by the end of the year.

The B.C. Federation of Labour noted Thursday companies will need to abide by B.C.'s employment standards and labour laws to ensure drivers are protected. Other jurisdictions around the world, including California, have struggled with unregulated ride-hailing companies taking advantage of employees in a gig economy.

As part of the approval deal, Trevena said, the PTB will be "very closely" monitoring drivers' incomes at Uber and Lyft to ensure staff are paid fairly.

Uber and Lyft still have a few more hurdles to clear before they can hit the road in B.C. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Much of the taxi sector has pushed back against ride-hailing for years. In giving Uber and Lyft the green light, the board rejected a demand from the taxi industry to cap the number of ride-hailing vehicles allowed on the road.

The taxi group also wanted the board to prohibit companies from using variable pricing. It declined.

"The board has determined that, at this point in time, it is not prepared to impose limits on fleet size because of the experiences of other jurisdictions with Uber's operations," the PTB decision read.

Twenty-nine ride-hailing companies have applied to the B.C. board for approval since September. Only a handful of applications have been decided.

Bids from Kater and ReRyde were rejected, the board said Thursday. Green Coast Ventures Inc., recently received the go-ahead to operate in Tofino, Ucluelet, Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish during its first year.

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

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