British Columbia Government Paves Way for Uber -- Finally

  • Vancouver is among the few cities still resisting ride-hailing
  • Car services will start if government wins re-election in May

One of the strongest holdouts against car-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft Inc. may finally be giving in.

British Columbia unveiled new rules Tuesday that pave the way for the controversial companies to bring their services to Vancouver and other cities in the province -- as long as the government wins re-election in a vote scheduled for May.

B.C. will allow Uber Technologies Inc. and similar companies to operate by December, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone said. In the meantime, the government will provide funding to traditional taxi companies to upgrade their own technology and develop new insurance products for ride sharing, he said.

“We are very excited to finally be in a position to look British Columbians in the eyes and say ride sharing is coming to our province,” Stone said.

Vancouver, home to breathtaking mountain views, soaring real estate prices and a burgeoning technology startup scene, has consistently rebuffed Uber’s attempts to operate. Unlike most Canadian cities, which handle their own taxi regulations, Vancouver is subject to province-wide rules set by an appointed council called the Passenger Transportation Board.

In November 2012, when Uber started to operate in the city, the board threatened to take away licenses from drivers working for the San Francisco-based company. Uber hasn’t operated in the province since then.

“Today’s announcement is a step forward by the provincial government,” said Susie Heath, a spokeswoman for Uber. “British Columbians want and need access to more safe, affordable and reliable transportation options.”

Ride-hailing drivers will have to pass a criminal record check, and their vehicles must go through “consistent” safety checks and mechanical inspections, said Peter Fassbender, the minister responsible for public transit. The province will also strike down rules that have frustrated taxi companies, like banning cars based in one part of the larger Vancouver metro area from picking up passengers in another part.

The announcement comes two months before a provincial election that pits Fassbender and Stones’ Liberal Party against the New Democrats and Greens. Bringing in ride-sharing adds to Premier Christy Clark’s pitch for re-election, which also includes support for first-time home buyers struggling to get into the red-hot real estate market. There’s a possibility that Clark’s opponents also will allow the ride-hailing companies to operate in Vancouver if they win the election.

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