Uber coming to Victoria and Kelowna

Uber could soon be coming to Kelowna and Victoria. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)
Uber could soon be coming to Kelowna and Victoria. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)

Uber says it has been given the go-ahead to begin operating its ride-hailing service in Victoria and Kelowna.

In a tweet, the company said the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) approved a licence transfer application, which would allow the company to offer services in those communities.

"We plan to launch soon and will provide more information in the coming days," read the tweet.

Uber previously launched in Metro Vancouver in January 2020. It applied to set up operations in the rest of B.C. on Aug. 31, 2020, but its application to operate in Kelowna and Victoria was denied in December 2021.

At the time, the PTB said the expansion would be harmful to taxi companies, which were struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transport Minister Rob Fleming told CBC News he commended the PTB for delaying the introduction of ride-hailing across B.C. as the economy was in the throes of the pandemic-induced slowdown.

"The independent board has made an appraisal of the application and made a decision that I don't think will be a great surprise to anyone," he said.

In its tweet, Uber said tens of thousands of residents in those communities have signed up for the service.

Uber's application to have another company's licence — in this case, a private service called ReRyde — transferred was approved by the PTB on Wednesday.

The PTB says if Uber wants to operate in other parts of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast or northern B.C., they will have to give the board three months' notice, and apply for business licences in each jurisdiction they operate in, something that has proved a barrier in the past in B.C.

Tourism operators, mayor excited by move

Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, said his organization had been pushing for the province to allow Uber to operate in the capital for some time.

"Nighttime bus service has not returned to its pre-pandemic levels, and often taxis are busy with guests," he said. "For the safe transportation of workers, first and foremost, Uber is essential — or ride sharing, more broadly, is."

He also said having Uber would help visitors to the city who use Victoria International Airport, especially as the airport lacked the fast transit connections that are seen in Vancouver.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto also said she was excited by the introduction of the service, and that city staff were already working on recommendations to council when it came to how to license Uber drivers.

Alto said she would look to see if drivers of zero-emission vehicles would have lower licencing costs, as that was a big priority for the city. She also said the province's regulations of Uber drivers, which require all drivers to have a commercial licence, should give passengers some comfort.

However, Mohan Kang of the B.C. Taxi Association said he has major concerns about how drivers will be paid when Uber starts rolling out in Victoria and Kelowna. Unlike taxi drivers, Uber drivers are considered independent contractors and do not have health-care coverage through the company.

Kang also says he's concerned about the financial viability of taxi operators in the two regions — something the PTB had acknowledged was a large factor in their initial dismissal of Uber's case.

"Taxi drivers are considered to be an employee," he said. "When the minimum wages are going to go $16.75 soon. Even if instead of 12 hours they are working 10 hours, that is $167.50 ... the owner of the company has to pay whatever is due to him, whereas it is not so in case of ride hailing.

"When we talk about the even playing field — there's no even playing field, although we are doing the same job carrying passengers."