B.C. approves first ride-hailing service — and it’s not Uber or Lyft

What happened: A B.C. company is the first to get approval from provincial regulators to operate ride-hailing services

Why it matters: British Columbians have been waiting years for ride-hailing, but the province has been slow to allow services

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Those expecting provincial regulators to give the first ride-hailing licence to giants like Uber Technologies Inc. or Lyft Inc. might be in for a surprise.

Instead, the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) revealed Monday (Dec. 16) that it’s giving the nod to Green Coast Ventures Inc., a Tofino-based company operating under the name Whistle.

Whistle plans to offer ride-hailing in smaller resort communities outside the Lower Mainland, such as Tofino, Ucluelet, Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish.

“Whistle is a ride-hailing app focusing on resort towns, where the struggle for transit solutions during peak times is the greatest,” the company said in its licence application to the PTB.

“The Whistle app matches other industry leaders in quickly connecting passengers with certified drivers, for an upfront fare, from customers' phones. Passengers may also choose to share their ride, aiming to reduce fares for locals who often have to commute from outside of town to work. The founder has operated buses in 40+ B.C. communities and knows the value of driver training to grow the licensed driver pool in anticipation of peak demand.”

Within its first year of offering those services the company plans to build a fleet of 15 vehicles operating in the Tofino and Ucluelet area, as well as a 30-vehicle fleet in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish.

Green Coast is also offering a benefit package for drivers that includes an extended health benefit plan, at-cost fuel, vehicle maintenance and ongoing training.

The PTB acknowledged in its approval that groups such as the Vancouver Taxi Association and the B.C. Federation of Labour have raised concerns that ride-hailing companies treat drivers like contractors, not employees.

“According to the BCFED, they do not receive benefits, earn less than minimum wage, and lose the ability to unionize. It is alleged that these conditions are exploitative and cannot lead to sound economic conditions,” the PTB stated in its approval.

“It is important to note that these concerns are not directed at Green Coast specifically but are rather directed at the larger TNS [Transportation Network Service] operators.”

Whistle will next have to get the appropriate insurance from ICBC and work with the municipalities in which it will be operating to comply with local by-laws before it can offer rides to customers.

In addition to approving its first licence, the PTB also rejected its first application.

Regulators raised concerns that Victoria-based LTG Technologies Ltd., operating as Lucky to Go, did not have any directors with experience operating a passenger transportation business, did not provide evidence of driver supply and that its business plan was “vague and lacking details.”

“Critically, the business plan does not reveal an understanding of the passenger transportation business generally,” the PTB stated in its rejection.

“LTG states that safety is a priority; however, there is no evidence of a satisfactory safety plan.”

To date, the PTB has received 24 ride-hailing applications.

torton@biv.com

@reporton

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