Stranded - The Orca
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Stranded

Maclean Kay
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BC’s never-ending drama with ride sharing gets messier and messier.

There’s really no way around it: ride sharing in British Columbia is a mess.

The latest news is that a coalition of nine taxi companies is asking the BC Supreme Court to change the just-announced ride sharing policies.

That the taxi industry is upset is no surprise; ride sharing was always going to mean significant and potentially disruptive change. And it’s not hard to see why BC’s two major parties have been so cautious on the file. BC’s taxi industry is vocal, well organized, and closely associated with the even-better-organized and influential South Asian community, with a particular concentration in swing Surrey ridings.

As we saw with the BC Liberals leading up to 2017, a comfortable majority government couldn’t take this lightly; a minority government definitely can’t. Still, the NDP haven’t exactly navigated this nimbly. Case in point: the issue of licensing.

Against the advice of the all-party legislative committee, the NDP insisted ride sharing drivers obtain a commercial Class 4 license, instead of the standard Class 5.

After months of swearing up and down this was purely related to public safety, this week, under duress, the NDP let down their guard.

Premier John Horgan reassured the taxi industry his government was trying to help them – specifically mentioning the Class 4 requirement for ride sharing drivers.

It was a revealing slip. It’s not impossible the Class 4 requirement could be both “all about safety” and merely incidentally beneficial to the taxi industry, but that’s not what the Premier said in his letter.

The NDP realized they couldn’t stem the tide on ride sharing, but seemed to think they could limit it. But on matters like regional boundaries, control rests with the province’s Passenger Transportation Board – which didn’t follow the script.

NDP strategists probably figured/hoped having the PTB make some of these decisions would provide some cover – don’t blame us, the unelected officials did it – but that’s a very Inside Baseball mentality. The public (and apparently the taxi industry) doesn’t make such distinctions; government is government. If it happens on your watch, it’s your responsibility. It’s a philosophy the NDP enthusiastically reinforced in opposition.

As others have noted, the NDP seem rattled on this file. Like all governments, they’d like to give everyone what they want. On ride sharing, it’s just not possible, because they’re mutually exclusive.

The taxi industry essentially wants to pretend ride sharing either doesn’t exist or will infect passengers with the plague. Polls consistently indicate the general public wants the same choices and services as everywhere else.

On an either/or file, the NDP has tried to make both sides happy. So far, it hasn’t worked.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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