New ride-hailing app to test launch in Vancouver

A B.C. company called Kater will soon begin testing its new taxi service, using what it describes as Vancouver's first legally compliant ride-hailing app. 

Like other ride-hailing apps, Kater will allow users to order a taxi through a mobile app, track vehicle arrival times, rate passengers and drivers, and view the estimated cost of a trip and travel times.

Kater will use licensed taxis and drivers with Class-4 licences, unlike popular rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, which don't operate now in B.C.,  and which traditionally involve local drivers using their personal vehicles to transport passengers.

In B.C., a Class-4 licence is required for people to drive commercial vehicles like buses, ambulances, taxis and limousines.

"In order to be fully operational we had to adhere to the guidelines and the rules, that meant that all of our vehicles needed to have taxi licences," said Corrie Larsen, a spokesperson for Kater.

Larsen says Kater struck a deal with the Vancouver Taxi Association to obtain 140 taxi licences. In exchange, Kater will hand 20 per cent of its profits to the taxi association. 

"We chose to be fully compliant, because ultimately at the end of the day we wanted to provide the solution, and waiting for any rules and regulations to change was a gamble," said Larson.

Cory Correia/CBC News

The provincial government passed legislation last fall to enable ride-hailing services, but according to the Ministry of Transportation, companies like Uber and Lyft must wait until this fall to apply to enter the market. 

Part of the regulations from the provincial legislation call for ride-hailing and taxi drivers to maintain a Class-4 passenger licence, which requires drivers to pass a criminal record check and medical fitness checks every five years.

Ride-hailing or taxi service?

Kater plans to fully launch later this spring with 140 cars servicing various regions around Metro Vancouver, including Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, and North Vancouver. 

While the new cars will give consumers another option when trying to get around, critics question Kater's use of the term ride-hailing.

"Kater is a taxi service, not ridesharing, meaning it is subject to the same rules that make taxis unreliable," said Lyft spokesperson Fatima Reyes.

She noted that Lyft provides drivers, many of whom drive part-time, with a "flexible earning opportunity," which allows drivers to arrange their own schedules.

A group that advocates for more ridesharing options in B.C. tweeted: "Kater is simply another form of taxi and does not address the need for transportation options across B.C."

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver says this app isn't the ride-hailing service people in B.C. have been clamouring for. 

"[Ride-hailing is about] providing timely service to meet surge demand," said Weaver. "It is not about developing an app that allows you to access taxis more efficiently."

Weaver says the government needs to move away from the requirement that ride-hailing operators hold a Class-4 licence, and instead allow people with a Class-5 — which allows people to drive cars, vans and trucks — to participate.   "We're talking about people driving the car they normally drive a few extra hours, in some cases, a week and to do that, Class-5 is sufficient, provided you have the additional checks on top of it," said Weaver.