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Surrey mayor tells Uber drivers to get taxi licence, city hall says they can't

Surrey is enforcing a bylaw on Uber drivers that fines people for conducting business without a licence
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum told media Monday that he wants a level playing field for taxis and ride hailing vehicles once an inter-municipal (regional) licence is implemented for ride hailing. Until then his bylaw officers will be proactively fining drivers for ride-hailing companies. Photo by Graeme Wood/Glacier Media

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum told media Monday that drivers contracted to work with ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft can apply for a taxi business licence while his municipal government works toward a regional licensing system via TransLink.

But a different reality exists at Surrey City Hall’s bylaw and licensing department, where employees are informing prospective ride-hailing drivers to leave their information with the city manager, Vince Lalonde – who happened to order a rare proactive bylaw enforcement campaign against unlicensed Uber drivers over the weekend.

“There [are] different categories that they [Uber drivers] can apply for. For example they can apply for the same licence as taxis apply for. So there is the option to do that,” said McCallum.

The mayor was then asked if he would grant those taxi licences to Uber drivers.

“Yes.... There are a couple meetings we have to go through first ... and one is very important this Thursday, which is TransLink.”

At the city hall licensing counter an employee said, when asked to provide a taxi license application: “There’s no licences right now for Uber or Lyft. You can’t get any licence. You can’t get a taxi licence either.”

McCallum’s municipal government has not implemented a bylaw to license ride-hailing companies and drivers. His is the only government in the region to issue warning tickets. Surrey bylaw officers issued 18 Uber drivers warning tickets from Friday to Sunday after the provincial government approved the two largest ride-hailing companies to operate in Metro Vancouver last Thursday.

On Monday McCallum warned that the warning tickets would soon become $500 fines. Furthermore, McCallum announced that Uber as a corporation is now being fined $500 per day for conducting business without a licence.

“I support ride hailing but it has to be on a level playing field with the taxi industry,” said McCallum, defending the warnings.

“The fact is a business licence is required to operate in Surrey or any other municipality in the Lower Mainland. “Until that happens, Uber is operating illegally in Surrey,” said McCallum, whose assertion seems at odds with the Ministry of Transportation.

“Provincial law is clear, no municipality has the authority to block the operation of ride-hailing services,” said ministry spokesperson Danielle Pope, Monday via email, adding that “the absence of a bylaw or business licence in specific municipalities related to ride hailing is not grounds for the refusal of service.”

Vancouver lawyer Dean Davison, whose law firm Davison Law Group advertises expertise in municipal law, said “any attempt to stop ride hailing in B.C. by a city is beyond their authority.”

Surrey is employing a bylaw that fines people for conducting business without a licence.

But, said Davison, “a city cannot create or use a bylaw that is in direct conflict with a provincial law unless they are authorized by the Province or the Province does not adequately consult.

“If this matter was to go to court, it would be a very interesting argument as there is not too much jurisprudence on this specific issue as cities and the Province generally work together,” said Davison, who believes the City of Surrey is violating the Passenger Transportation Act in spirit and in practice “as Surrey is not issuing licences and enforcing their bylaw for not having a licence.

“Surrey can say they are in the process but should not be giving out tickets while they create the new ride sharing regime,” Davison said.

McCallum voted against a proposed inter-municipal licensing system last month, at a TransLink board meeting, but now he appears to be open to the concept, with certain conditions.

“We will only put the same fees from the city as the taxi industry has to pay,” he said.

“We’ve said we’ve wanted to work with the region for a common denominator as far as fees are concerned. That’s what we’re waiting for.”

McCallum said the city was not given enough notice that the companies would be approved to operate in Metro Vancouver. And that is why the city itself does not have ride-hailing bylaws in place.

“We did not have any notice very quickly that they would be given their licenses by the transportation board,” said McCallum.

City of Surrey managers have been discussing ride hailing since it was approved by the province in September, according to city correspondence obtained by Glacier Media that is heavily redacted for the stated reasons of policy discussion and cabinet privilege.

Coun. Jack Hundial said he’s been waiting since October for a corporate report on the matter that management told him would be forthcoming.

“The city should have addressed this going into it. But we had some assumptions; there’s the regional plan and we’ll go with it,” said Hundial, who opposes bylaw officers enforcing something the city’s failed to implement despite provincial government direction to the contrary.

Hundial said the inter-municipal licence is an opportunity to look at taxi company municipal boundary restrictions (Uber and Lyft have no such restrictions).

Ultimately, said Hundial, “our core value as a city is innovation, which is about making the best decision on new and emerging technologies for the betterment of our community.”

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