Metro Vancouver Taxi companies ask court to strike down rules allowing Uber and Lyft to operate in B.C.
A group of taxi companies asked the Supreme Court of B.C. on Wednesday to quash rules set by the Passenger Transportation Board to allow the introduction of ride-hailing services in B.C.
The move comes a day after Premier John Horgan sent a letter to the Vancouver Taxi Association promising support for taxi drivers after the introduction of ride-hailing, particularly around the unlimited fleet-size policy of the independent transportation board.
Horgan wrote that the government was committed to “minimize negative effects on the taxi sector” from the introduction of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.
The board is expected to review the fleet-size decision at some point. But Horgan wrote — in the letter obtained by Postmedia News — that the government wanted that review to occur “in a timely way so the taxi sector does not experience serious economic dislocation before a supply or cap decision occurs.”
Meanwhile, taxi drivers are taking their own action, arguing in court that the whole regime the board has set up to govern ride-hailing should be tossed out.
Vancouver lawyer Peter Gall — who represents Yellow Cabs, Black Top Cabs, Maclure’s Cabs, Vancouver Taxi, North Shore Taxi, Richmond Cabs, Bonny’s Taxi, Burnaby Select Taxi and Queen City Taxi — told Postmedia that he believes the board does not have the statutory power to create operating policies for ride-hailing before receiving applications, and if they did, they would have to consult with taxi companies affected. He said he is also challenging whether the board has the power to have two sets of rules for passenger transportation providers.
“They want the (operating) policies quashed and they want a fair hearing before the Passenger Transportation Board,” said Gall, referring to the taxi companies' request to the court.
The board has 21 days to respond to the court case.
He said taxi companies accept that ride-hailing businesses like Uber and Lyft are coming, but they do not accept the rules that the board created, which they believe give ride-hailing an unfair advantage over traditional taxis. They are also challenging the board creating two sets of operating policies, one for ride-hailing and one for taxis.
“The taxi industry says that before you introduce policies to support the business model of Uber and Lyft, you have to carefully scrutinize that business model and you have to give the affected parties an opportunity to respond to that business model and it didn’t do that,” he said. “That’s why we want the policy quashed and we want a fair hearing before the board to look into that business model.”
At the centre of the storm is a decision on Aug. 19 by the Passenger Transportation Board that set out the conditions under which ride-hailing could exist in the province. This included zones they could operate in, that drivers need a Class 4 professional licence, that there would be no limits on fleet numbers and no upper limit on how much the companies could charge. Before that, the board consulted with Vancouver taxi companies, the Vancouver Port Authority, Vancouver Airport Authority, Uber and Lyft.
The board has asked ride-hailing businesses — which are dominated globally by Uber and Lyft — to apply to the Ministry of Transportation’s passenger transportation branch for the right to operate and that process is now underway. Later this month, the branch will forward the applications to the board, which will have the final say.
The provincial government has promised ride-hailing will be running by the end of the year.
Gall said that the petition filed late Wednesday was to challenge the board’s exercise of its power on procedural grounds — that it didn’t have the right to create the rules around how ride-hailing should operate — and substantive grounds — that it made an unreasonable decision.
He said the board took the word of Uber and Lyft on what they needed in order to be viable as gospel, without allowing those affected to challenge that business model.
The taxi companies have already sent a letter to Jan Broocke, interim director of the board, asking for the right to contest any ride-hailing applications. They want the board to take into account the affect of congestion caused by ride-hailing cars on the road.
Gall supplied to Postmedia a letter from B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena to Catherine Read, chair of the board, stating concerns she had about the board’s policy that there would be no limit on ride-hailing fleets and the resulting congestion.
“I trust that the impact of impact of increased congestion will be monitored closely by the board and will factor heavily into future decisions around fleet size limits,” Trevena wrote.
When contacted on Wednesday evening, an Uber spokesperson said they were not aware of the court petition and could not comment until they had reviewed it.