British Columbia

Uber aims to launch in Lower Mainland by late 2019, but uncertainty remains over rest of B.C.

The ride-hailing service says it will likely operate only in Metro Vancouver at first.

Ride-hailing service says it will likely operate only in Metro Vancouver at first

Uber is aiming to launch in Metro Vancouver by late 2019. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

People living in the Lower Mainland could be hopping in an Uber by late 2019. 

But the ride-hailing service won't definitively say whether it will operate outside that region — or in sizeable B.C. municipalities such as Victoria and Kelowna — due to the province's requirement that drivers hold a commercial license.

The company announced Wednesday it will apply to the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board to operate in region one, which includes Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish, Whistler and Lillooet.

That doesn't mean customers in all those areas will be able to use the app when it launches.

"Day 1, we likely will not be operating throughout all of region one," Michael van Hemmen, Uber's head of Western Canada, told CBC News.

"It will likely be a smaller subset of region one, focused on Metro Vancouver proper. As we're able to attract drivers, we can consider more communities."

The transportation board will start accepting applications Sept. 3, with a processing time of six to eight weeks.

Van Hemmen says he's optimistic the service will launch before the holiday season. The company is waiting until closer to launch date to finalize which communities will have the service, based on the number of driver applications.

Rural areas shut out

Greg McCune, the mayor of Enderby, B.C., said ride-hailing would benefit the Interior city of 3,000 people, including people who rely on limited bus service get to medical appointments.

"I think it's more important for rural communities than it is for the big centres because the big centres already have options," he said. "We don't have any options whatsoever."

Uber says it wants to operate across B.C., but argues the province's regulations have kneecapped their ability to operate in smaller municipalities by shrinking the pool of qualified drivers.

The B.C. government says ride-hailing drivers must hold a Class 1, 2, or 4 commercial licence, rather than a standard Class 5 license held by most drivers, similar to Alberta.

In B.C., only people over the age of 19 can apply for a commercial licence. Drivers must have had fewer than four penalty point incidents in the past two years and no driving-related criminal convictions within the past three years. 

Uber says the licence, which is required for taxi and limo drivers in B.C., will pose a significant barrier for drivers and reduce supply for passengers. 

Uber and Lyft drivers carry signs during a demonstration outside of Uber headquarters in San Francisco in May 2019. The ride-hailing companies have been criticized for their treatment of drivers and handling of passenger safety. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

"The Class 4 license requires you to go to an ICBC testing centre and to write a test about a mini bus, a 25-passenger vehicle," van Hemmen said. 

"We don't understand what that has to do with safety for driving a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic."

The company wants the B.C. government to reduce red tape by allowing Class 5 licenses, while weeding out unsafe drivers through ICBC driving record checks.

Ride-hailing company Lyft has also criticized the regulations and says it intends to start operating for now in the Lower Mainland, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

'Interest is astonishing'

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has said she won't budge on the licence requirement, citing passenger safety.

Uber is encouraging prospective drivers to start the process to obtain a Class 4 licence with ICBC.

Valley Driving School, which operates six locations in Metro Vancouver, has seen a 116 per cent increase in registrations for its Class 4 programs between June and August versus the same period in 2018.

"The interest is astonishing," said director of operations Joel Donnelly, adding that he's supportive of the province's push for a commercial license.

"There's no downside to being able to brush up on our safe behaviours."

With files from Brady Strachan and Tina Lovgreen

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