Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said bylaw officers will be stepping up enforcement against ride-hailing drivers picking up passengers in his city, pitting him against provincial regulations, Uber and some members of his own council.
McCallum told reporters that bylaw officers hailed rides through the Uber app and gave 18 warning notices to drivers on the weekend because the company does not have a business licence. Uber, the company, was issued two $500 tickets — one for each day.
He said that the grace period is over and drivers will be fined if they are caught picking up passengers in Surrey. Daily fines will also continue to be levied against Uber.
McCallum said Monday that he supports ride-hailing, but it’s a service he doesn’t want in Surrey until there is parity between the rules governing ride-hailing and taxi companies. He defended the city’s right to enforce its bylaws how it sees fit.
“Ride-hailing, in a regulated industry, has a very unfair advantage. Government has a role to play and I would argue has a responsibility to ensure there is fair competition between the taxi service industry and the ride-hailing components,” McCallum told reporters.
The city has not developed a business licence specific to ride-hailing, like the ones in Vancouver, Burnaby, Delta, Richmond and the Tri-Cities.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, a municipality can set requirements for business licences for ride-hail operators, but doesn’t have the authority to block the operation of ride-hailing services.
“The absence of a bylaw or business licence in specific municipalities related to ride-hailing is not grounds for refusal of the service,” the ministry said in an emailed statement. The ministry did not say what would happen if a municipality did stand in the way of ride-hailing companies operating in their jurisdiction.
McCallum said Uber is welcome to apply for a business licence like the one that taxi companies must obtain. Taxi companies pay $161.75 a year for a Surrey business licence, plus $441.50 for each taxi. He did not say how long it would take to get such a licence.
McCallum said when it comes to the city developing its own business licence, they need to wait and see what happens regionally. He said council has not had the opportunity to talk about ride-hailing because they had no notice that operating licences would be issued.
At least three councillors, none of whom are part of McCallum’s majority Safe Surrey Coalition, disagreed with the city’s tactic.
Coun. Brenda Locke said she was “blindsided” by what happened over the weekend.
“I think it’s appalling and not in keeping with the spirit of whatever this legislation is going to be moving forward by the province,” Locke said. “I don’t know why Surrey would choose to be so aggressive about it at this time. We know we’re moving into a ride-sharing world and that’s a good thing for Surrey.”
Locke has asked city staff if a legal opinion was sought before bylaw staff took action against Uber, but has not received a response.
Two Vancouver lawyers agreed that the bylaw officers’ actions in this case don’t constitute entrapment, unless maybe the driver was summoned from another municipality. Dean Davison, whose firm specializes in municipal law, said the city is breaching a section of the Community Charter that states a provision of a municipal bylaw has no effect if it is inconsistent with a provincial enactment.
Coun. Jack Hundial took an Uber on Saturday from his home in Newton to city hall. He said warning or ticketing drivers will discourage them from working in the city, which is bad for those trying to earn a buck and for residents who want to use the service.
Hundial said council was supposed to receive a report about ride-hailing last fall, but the issue has not been raised with council since.
“We’ve yet to see it. This hasn’t really come before council as a discussion point yet,” said Hundial.
Coun. Linda Annis called on the mayor and city staff to ensure ride-hailing is available in the city.
“We’ve all waited long enough, it’s time to get on with it,” Annis said in a news release. “The monopoly of the tax owners is over and Surrey residents should have the same access to Uber and Lyft as Vancouverites. I want assurances from the mayor and our city staff that there will be no more obstacles and that our residents can access this new transportation option immediately. I’m hoping the mayor will stand up for 550,000 Surrey residents, rather than a handful of taxi company owners who have had a monopoly for decades.”
Annis and others support a regional ride-hailing business licence, which is being developed by TransLink at the behest of the Mayors’ Council. It’s expected to be drafted within the next week, at which time it will go to Metro Vancouver municipal councils for consideration. Participation in the regional licence will be voluntary.
McCallum voted against such a licence, although he seemed to go back on that position on Monday and claimed he is involved in coming up with a regional model.
According to Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s head of Western Canada, the company and its drivers have the required approvals from the province and the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in Metro Vancouver.
“We do not believe there is any legal basis for drivers to be fined by the City of Surrey,” he said in an emailed statement.
The company did not say, when asked, who would be responsible for paying — the company or the driver — if a fine was levied.