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Federal watchdog pushes B.C. to 're-think' ride-hailing, taxis

Competition Bureau says government must 'level the playing field'

The federal competition watchdog says B.C.’s plans for ride-hailing services are in need of a "re-think."

The Competition Bureau unveiled four recommendations Monday (January 4) to the all-party legislative committee reviewing the province’s transportation networks.

It’s urging government to “level the playing field for taxis and ride-sharing providers, allowing them to compete more effectively with each other for passengers.”

Recommendations include ensuring regulations are fair and do not favour either taxi providers or ride-hailing platforms; providing drivers with flexibility to choose their own service areas; allowing market forces to determine the number of drivers available to customers; and letting market forces determine pricing.

The province recently allowed the Vancouver Taxi Association to enter an agreement with Kater Technologies Inc. to use the latter’s app in some taxis in the region.

This decision appears to side-step Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft, and offer a head-start to Kater, which bills itself as a ride-hailing app in beta testing that would charge a base fare of $3.20 plus 55 cents per minute or else $1.84 per kilometre.

The watchdog also said provincial taxi regulations must be made “better for consumers and businesses alike by applying the principles of competition.”

The province has also come under fire for its slow rollout of ride-hailing services.

Legislation tabled in Victoria last November pushes ICBC to have insurance products ready for ride-hailing services by fall 2019.

But there is no firm date yet when the services will be ready for the road.

Meanwhile, it will be up to the cabinet-appointed Passenger Transportation Board — not the companies — to make decisions on fares and surge-pricing, as well as operating areas and vehicle supply.

“[It] completely defeats the purpose, we think, of ride-sharing, which is driven by the consumer,” Ian Tostenson, the president and CEO of the Ridesharing Now for B.C. advocacy group, said in November.

“How do you put restrictions on that?”

He said his group representing businesses was left “bewildered” by the government’s plan.