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Uber gets friendly reception from Township council

Uber spokesperson Michael van Hemmen asked Township council to lobby the provincial government to bring in ride-sharing regulations. - Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
Uber spokesperson Michael van Hemmen asked Township council to lobby the provincial government to bring in ride-sharing regulations.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

Uber, a U.S. based ride-sharing service that has run afoul of municipal authorities and taxi companies in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton has won a positive reception from Langley Township council, which endorsed the idea of ride-sharing.

The "Uber X" service allows drivers without taxi licences to make money by providing rides booked through the Uber smartphone application, usually for a lot less than taxis charge.

After hearing from Uber spokesperson Michael van Hemmen at the Monday, Nov. 23 afternoon meeting, council voted eight-to-one to send a letter to the provincial government, urging it to allow ride-sharing, "in a manner that ensures public safety and meets the needs of the residents of B.C."

The pro-ride-sharing letter was proposed by councillor Angie Quaale.

"I will absolutely be a user," Quaale told van Hemmen.

"I can't wait to use this service."

Quaale said an Uber-type service would be especially good for Langley seniors, who are under-served by existing public transit.

Councillor Blair Whitmarsh said he's tried the Uber service and found it "very slick."

"The vehicles are significantly nicer than any taxi I've been in," Whitmarsh said.

Van Hemmen told council Uber is hoping to build a "coalition of the willing" among B.C. municipalities who will lobby for provincial ride-sharing regulations.

Unlike Uber's traditional taxi service, which helps users hail licensed cabs, Uber X allows ordinary drivers to make money picking up rides.

"These are your neighbours," van Hemmen said.

"These are everyday people."

He added the company requires mandatory inspections of vehicles and all drivers must identify themselves online before picking up passengers.

Van Hemmen called it "a very safe system."

"You always know who you're getting into a vehicle with," he said.

The lone vote against the endorsement came from councillor Bob Long, who wanted the matter referred to municipal staff for study, but could not muster enough votes.

Long said council should take a "step of caution" and have staff look into the matter.

"I don't think this council understands the far-reaching implications of this motion," Long said.

Under questioning by Long, van Hammen conceded Uber is operating without permission in several Canadian cities.

"It's an unregulated service," van Hemmen said.

Van Hemmen did not directly respond when Long asked him if Uber intended to operate without a licence in B.C., only saying the company intended to be "collaborative and proactive" with the provincial government.

Uber has been given a rough ride by other Canadian cities, such as Montreal, where the mayor said the service was operating "illegally" and authorities have seized over 400 vehicles for operating without a licence.

In Toronto, the city charged more than 100 "Uber X" drivers with failing to get a city licence and submit their vehicles for inspection.

In Edmonton, taxi companies sued Uber for $150 million in "economic damages," saying the service was allowing drivers to operate vehicles-for-hire without proper driving licences or commercial insurance.

In Vancouver, an assessment by city staff concluded ride-sharing "raises significant concerns about passenger safety, future taxi industry viability and the availability of accessible service to disabled persons."

The city of Vancouver imposed a six-month moratorium on new taxi licences to review the impact of ride sharing, with input from Uber.

When several Vancouver taxi companies sued to keep Uber out, the company filed a written response that said the cab companies "have operated as a cartel, seeking to stifle any form of competition or innovation in the commercial transportation industry" for over 50 years.

The lawsuit was later withdrawn because Uber didn't launch a Vancouver service.

Uber is said to be valued at $70 billion US and is now operating in over 300 cities and 50 countries.

On Nov. 26, the Federal Competition Tribunal released a report that said municipal governments should relax "heavy-handed" taxi regulations instead of opposing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

"The “check engine” light is glowing on the dashboard of the Canadian taxi industry," the report said.

"The good news is that developments to date point to a clear way forward: If the old ways cannot bring about a satisfactory solution, then all that is left is to embrace change."

- with files from Black Press

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