The ride-sharing service Uber says it shouldn't be forced to follow taxi regulations, which it says are outdated, as the B.C. government plans to launch an undercover assault on the alternative taxi service.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone says plainclothes transit agents posing as potential customers will be deployed to ensure taxis and their drivers are operating by B.C.'s rules, which are enforced to ensure passenger safety.
"We will have dozens of undercover enforcement officers who will be at the ready to ensure that anyone who is providing a taxi-like service is doing so with a proper licence," said Stone, adding those who don't comply face maximum fines of up to $5,000.
Stone has previously promised fines and legal action if Uber operates in B.C. without ensuring drivers have taxi licences, which is what the company has done in other cities such as Ottawa.
Uber operated its black-car service in Vancouver for about six months in 2012, but the company withdrew from B.C. after the provincial transportation regulator imposed a minimum fare of $75 per trip.
Uber is now rumoured to be expanding into Vancouver with its UberX service, which uses a smartphone app to connect passengers with non-regulated drivers.
Chilly reception from Canadian regulators
Uber already operates in 220 cities around the world, but has been getting an icy reception from regulators in some of Canada's largest centres, including Toronto—where officials issued a statement last month saying UberX violates municipal bylaws and "may pose a serious safety risk."
Firing back against the B.C. government's opposition in a press release Monday, Uber accused the local taxi lobby of spreading misinformation regarding Uber's records, saying that in fact, their service is a safe and sensible transportation choice.
The Uber smart phone app links non-regulated drivers and their cars with people looking for a ride, and already operates in more than 200 cities worldwide. (CBC)
"In every city in which we operate, our background check standards and insurance coverage meet or exceed what is required of taxis," said the statement.
"For example, in Toronto, Uber candidates are screened over their lifetime for potential DUI, traffic or sex offenses, whereas local taxis companies are only required to screen going back five years."
The company also said Vancouver residents are clamouring for the service Uber provides and touted the insurance precautions the company takes.
"Uber insures every ride end-to-end with our best-in-class $5 million insurance policy, whereas Toronto taxis are only required to carry $2 million in liability insurance."
NDP proposes to hike max. fine
Meanwhile, the Opposition New Democrats will introduce legislation on Monday to ensure that app-based ride-share and cab companies fall under the Passenger Transportation Act.
B.C. NDP leader John Horgan says he wants to raise the maximum fine for someone operating without a permit from $5,000 to $20,000.
Horgan said he recognizes the current taxi industry is "not perfect," but he has been approached by organizations representing seniors and the disabled over concerns that cut-rate competition will reduce service to the vulnerable.
"The solution is not to have an offshore company come using the Internet service to cut rates and put tens of thousands of British Columbians out of work and jeopardize the licences of those who have contributed so much over so many years to the economy and the well being of the people of British Columbia," he said Monday.
Uber isn't saying just what it has planned for Vancouver, but the company says it is a technology company, not a taxi service, and it shouldn't be subject to taxi regulations.