The long-awaited arrival of Uber and Lyft in Metro Vancouver is facing legal challenges less than a week after they began operating as Surrey's mayor also vows to keep the companies' drivers off the city's streets.
Premier John Horgan accused Mayor Doug McCallum on Wednesday of putting up unnecessary roadblocks in Surrey as ride-hailing in Metro Vancouver gets off to a contentious start.
Horgan, who faced intense pressure last year to speed up the ride-hailing approval process, said competition brings challenges but the government developed a regulatory framework to ensure a level playing field for taxi firms and companies like Uber and Lyft.
"When new competition comes in you want to make sure you're protecting the existing industry, but not protecting it from competition," the premier said at a news conference in Prince George. "This is a free market economy, people understand that."
He said the independent Passenger Transportation Board balanced the interests of the public and existing taxi industry before granting licence approvals last week to Uber and Lyft.
"The way forward for Surrey and for Mr. McCallum is to listen to the citizens in his community who want to see competition, not to destabilize and put people out of business but to provide a range of options for the travelling public," said Horgan.
McCallum said in a statement following the board's approval of licences for Uber and Lyft that he will not support ride-hailing in Surrey until he is convinced a fair playing field can be established.
"What continues to be my chief concern is the unfair advantage that has been created without any regard as to how it will impact those who are employed in the taxi industry," McCallum said.
Michael van Hemmen, Uber's spokesman for Western Canada, said the company filed an injunction application in British Columbia Supreme Court to prevent Surrey from issuing fines to its drivers in the city.
He said Surrey has not created a business licence for ride-hailing, compared to Vancouver's decision to update its bylaws to create a clear classification for ride-hailing companies. But Uber drivers in Surrey face the prospect of being fined by bylaw officers, said van Hemmen.
The injunction application says the Passenger Transportation Board approved Uber to operate in the Lower Mainland, including Surrey. It also says Uber considers Surrey's bylaw tickets illegal.
Van Hemmen told a news conference in Vancouver that Uber drivers will continue to operate in Surrey.
"We know that riders and drivers in Surrey want ride-sharing," he said.
"A large number of drivers who drive with Uber are actually from Surrey."
McCallum declined comment through his press secretary on Wednesday.
But Uber is not the only organization going to court. The Vancouver Taxi Association has filed petitions in B.C. Supreme Court alleging unfairness towards the taxi industry and calling for the quashing of licence approvals for Lyft and Uber.
A hearing is set for Feb. 4 in Vancouver.
"The business model of the international transportation service network companies, specifically Uber and Lyft, is to dominate the passenger transportation market by not having to comply with the rules and regulations that apply to taxis," says the petition representing nine companies. "They do not want a limit on the number of vehicles they deploy through their apps, and they do not want restriction on the prices they charge to customers."
Taxi association lawyer Peter Gall said the companies argue allowing Uber and Lyft to have no restrictions on vehicle numbers or pricing gives them an unfair advantage.
"The whole argument of the taxis is, give us an even playing field," he said.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said she preferred not to comment on a matter that is before the courts, but the government spent two years developing legislation and regulations in advance of ride-hailing licences being approved by the independent board.
— With files from Brenna Owen in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2020.