For the past half decade British Columbians have patiently awaited their provincial government to regulate ride-hailing.
After three unsuccessful attempts at private members’ legislation from BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, two by the former BC Liberals and one by the BC NDP, we finally have a Bill to debate that will enable ride-hailing.
No party can take a victory lap. This issue has been mired in political game-playing and frankly, vote-counting exercises and is a prime example of the political system in British Columbia failing its citizens.
Whether you support ride-hailing or not, and many British Columbians do, we should be able to develop a regulatory framework for disruptive technology. But, successive governments have been protecting the status quo.
I’m pleased to rise today and speak to a long-awaited piece of legislation in this Legislature, one that is so long in waiting that, in fact, we may have experienced yet another innovation before we actually had a chance to even debate it in this House.
I have to say that it is quite amusing to stand in this place. I’ve only been here since May of 2017, but it is quite amusing to sit and listen to the members of the official opposition stand in this place and pretend like they weren’t making the exact same political calculations for five years, that they weren’t determining whether or not they were going to win or lose 150 or 200 votes here or there, and that they weren’t dragging their heels for about a half decade on this issue.
Liberals just baited the hook
It’s fascinating to hear the members talk about how, at the end of 2016 — the end of 2016 — we had a full package of legislation, and we were going to roll it out. Well, we did roll it out right before the 2017 election, just right in time for us to bait the hook for the 2017 election.
It’s fascinating to hear member after member stand up and read emails from their constituents and pretend like they are somehow clean in this. This is not a celebration today. To me, this is actually…. I’m very happy to be debating this bill. I’m very happy that there is a bill before us to debate. But I think that this is, fundamentally, a failure of the B.C. political system that we haven’t had this discussion earlier, that it has taken so long for us to have a conversation about an innovative and disruptive technology.
Look, there’s no question about it. This technology is going to have an impact on the British Columbia economy. That is 100 percent true, that it is going to change incumbent…. Perhaps you should have been encouraging the former Minister of Transportation to embrace that positive change, shouldn’t you. Anyway, the fact of the matter is….
Too little, too late.
A. Olsen: Right. Too little, too late.
I rise in this place to speak to the legislation. I promised myself that I wouldn’t dive into the ditch with the members from Kamloops and roll around in the ditch, but I had to just a little bit. The member for Kamloops–North Thompson does entice — he’s not here now — to dive into the ditch and roll around for a bit, but I’m not going to do that.
Deputy Speaker: Member, we don’t comment on the presence or absence of members in the chamber.
A. Olsen: Okay. I’m sorry to the member. Thank you, Madame Speaker.
It was enticing to dive into the ditch. Now I’ll climb out and maybe stand on the side of the road here.
I rise to speak to the piece of legislation that is long overdue, legislation that creates a framework for ride-sharing in British Columbia.
My colleague the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head has put, no less than three times, legislation into this House — three times to this current government and, as well, to the former government, the government that proclaimed that it was taking rapid, near-half-decade-long quick action on this file. He has been a driving force for this government to bring something to the table.
Happy to have a Bill to debate
I’m glad that, for the first time, this House will be able to canvass, in detail, a sitting government’s approach to enabling ride-hailing in this province. That said, other jurisdictions have had ride-hailing services operating in their cities for almost a decade, and other members have gone into just what those cities are. It was fascinating to hear that Baghdad had ride-hailing. I did not know that, so I’m learning something today.
While this is, without a doubt, a step forward, no one here, I think, gets to take a victory lap. As I said, the fact that this issue of such high public interest, one that has been highlighted a number of times already, which has been addressed in almost every other jurisdiction in North America, is now only seeing its first legislation in B.C. is a failure of our political system, from my estimation. Government cannot bury its head in the sand, and it cannot pretend that change doesn’t happen.
Technological change is one of the greatest global forces, and it’s constantly reshaping our society. A forward-looking jurisdiction simply doesn’t look to protect the status quo. It seeks to harness technology to advance, for the well-being of its citizens.
Our caucus will be looking very closely to ensure that the legislation and regulations to follow strike the right balance so that the province lives up to its responsibility to ensure public safety and a fair playing field for business, while also providing British Columbians with access to the full range of modern transportation options.
For the most part, this legislation is an enabling legislation. Few specific decisions have been made regarding the regulatory regime that the ride-hailing companies would face.
Unfortunately, this means little is revealed about the realities of this regime, and the devil’s in the details. So far everyone agrees that having legislation is a positive step forward, but little is illuminated about whether it will establish a functional regime. In this, government has some significant work to do in clarifying its intent.
Specifically, we are going to be looking for clarification about how boundaries will be set, whether or not ride-hailing companies will face a supply caps and whether the government intends to have regulations around pricing or wages. All of these details remain unclear at this point.
Ride-hailing will now be regulated by PTB
However, there is at least one significant public policy decision in this legislation, a significant public policy that we’re going to be able to debate now, which is a good thing. That is, namely, that the legislation proposes that ride-hailing companies will be regulated by the Passenger Transportation Board. This is the same body that is responsible for authorizing new cabs in different jurisdictions.
But it remains unclear to me how the government proposes for ride-hailing companies to operate within this same framework when one of the most pressing challenges it has faced is approving adequate supply to meet demand. That’s been one of the main criticisms of the current system that exists already.
In Dan Hara’s report for the government, it made it clear that ride-hailing demand may exceed any estimates for taxis alone. Furthermore, the process for approval lets existing taxi companies argue about whether they will face economic hardship with the new approval. It creates this gridlock.
I have concerns that this will simply ensure the status quo is prevented from any disruption, and that’s certainly not the kind of approach that we are hoping the government will continue to take. I’ll be looking for significant clarity about how the minister proposes to address this concern.
How to license
I also must profess that I have some questions the government’s decision to require ride-hailing operators to maintain a class 4 licence. Everyone here agrees that government’s responsibility must be to ensure public safety. That is paramount. However, it is not clear that maintaining class 4 is a policy decision that necessarily promotes the broader public interest nor broader public safety.
In the former, we would have the government’s own consultant, Dan Hara, argue that class 5 licences are sufficient even for taxicab operators, so long as they’re coupled with an additional training and minimum driving requirements such as age or driving record. In the latter, groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving have joined the call for pushing ride-hailing to ensure that there are more options available to people who may be intoxicated.
If class 4 licences, as the policy tool, end up being a significant barrier, why can we not find other policy tools that accomplish a similar level of safety without the structural barriers to the industry? I’ll be looking for more clarity from the minister on this point as well.
I think that, while I was critical and am critical of the members of the official opposition trying to stake or claim some high ground on this issue, which I don’t believe there is any justification for — no justification at all, considering that this is a policy issue, a significant public policy issue that’s been needed to be moved forward for about a half-decade now — there have been some important points raised that need to be canvassed more deeply, as we now have the opportunity to debate it.
So this is the opportunity where we get to move from where it was or where it is currently to where it will be into the future. I look forward to that.
Ride-hailing another option for British Columbians
Many British Columbians, I know, are looking forward to having more options for them to get transported around their communities, whether it be in the Lower Mainland, here in southern Vancouver Island or in rural and remote communities across the province, communities like Saltspring Island, for an example. While you may not think they need a ride-hailing company, in fact, it would be very beneficial for a community like Saltspring or a community like other small communities.[Applause.]
Thank you. I appreciate that. That’s fantastic. I don’t get clapped at very often, so that’s great. I thank you. I appreciate it.
Anyways, I will close my part of the debate in this. We’re very, very interested. Of course, I would like to state that this has been something that the B.C. Green caucus has been advocating for long before I was in this place.
We look forward to it moving forward. So with that, I will take my seat. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.