Taxi industry feeling betrayed by NDP’s green light for ride-hailing | Vancouver Sun
VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan sent off a letter to the taxi industry this week, outlining what New Democrats have done to minimize the impact of ride-hailing.
“I’m writing to update you on the work our government is doing to support good, family-supporting jobs in the taxi industry as we move to introduce ride-hailing services,” wrote Horgan to Carolyn Bauer of the Vancouver Taxi Association.
The premier’s letter was sent by email Tuesday and not released to the public. It flowed from an Aug. 30 meeting where industry representatives expressed concerns about ride-hailing to Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs.
Many in the taxi industry feel betrayed. They supported the New Democrats in the last election, believing the party would do more than the B.C. Liberals to restrict the entry into the Metro Vancouver market of ride-hailing companies.
Horgan acknowledged the election promise but insisted it has been kept.
“As I promised during the last election, we are pursuing a very different direction from that proposed by the last government to support working families dependent on the taxi industry,” he wrote. “For one thing, we have insisted on Class 4 licences, not the Class 5 level.”
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Horgan’s mention of the licensing decision was telling. The New Democrats have indeed insisted that ride-hailing drivers obtain the tougher-to-get and more expensive Class 4 licences.
Except when they declared that position at the B.C. legislature last spring, they insisted it was done strictly in the name of public safety.
“I will not move on Class 4 licences,” announced Transportation Minister Claire Trevena with the ink still drying on the report of the legislature committee that recommended the opposite. “I think people’s safety is paramount and a Class 4 licence adds to that issue of safety.”
Writing to the taxi association this week, Horgan turned the licensing decision into a favour done for the industry. No mention of the “paramount” importance of public safety. Perhaps that slipped his mind.
The premier’s letter mentioned other things the NDP had done to maintain good relations with the industry: Requiring “thorough” criminal record checks. Pressing ICBC to create an “equitable” insurance product. Remaining neutral on the dispute within the industry over service boundaries.
All that was secondary to the industry’s No. 1 concern — the August decision by the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) to allow ride-hailing companies into the market with no caps on the number of drivers.
Horgan passed along to the industry a copy of a letter that the transportation minister had sent out that very day to the board, urging an expedited review of the no-caps decision.
The premier described the letter as the NDP response “to a widespread concern, brought to our attention by Surrey MLAs in particular, that no firm cap has been set on the amount of ride-hailing service that will be permitted in the province.”
He emphasized how “in her letter to the board, Minister Trevena has shared our government’s view that the review occurs in a timely way so the taxi sector does not experience serious economic dislocation.
“We remain convinced a solution to this problem can be found within the PTB framework and I urge you to work closely with the board,” wrote Horgan. “The sooner the PTB has reliable data, the sooner it can make evidence-based decisions.”
Which was about as far as he could go. The PTB is an independent tribunal, insulated from political interference via legislation brought in by the New Democrats.
Trevena herself boasted about that independence in steering the enabling legislation through the house:
“Our government thinks it is very important to have independent tribunals such as the Passenger Transportation Board working on behalf of the public good.”
Perhaps if Horgan, Trevena and Meggs had it to do over again, they might leave an opening to apply more direct pressure to the board.
But this week the premier confined himself to urging the industry to work with the board and try to change its mind.
The New Democrats did not release Horgan’s cosy letter to the public. The Vancouver Sun obtained a copy via the taxi industry’s filings in a court challenge to the transportation board decision.
However, the premier’s office did distribute the letter to eight NDP MLAs who’ve been on the receiving end of much of the taxi industry’s ire over the transportation board decision.
Copies went to six Surrey New Democrats: Cabinet ministers Harry Bains, Bruce Ralston and Jinny Sims and backbenchers Garry Begg, Jagrup Brar and Rachna Singh.
Also included in the distribution were Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon and Burnaby’s Raj Chouhan.
Four of the eight — Kahlon, Brar, Begg and Sims — were elected in 2017 by winning seats previously held by the Liberals. The taxi industry no doubt believes, probably with good reason, that it contributed to those NDP victories.
Had the Liberals held on to even one of the four seats, they might still be in government and the New Democrats in opposition.
“Rest assured,” wrote Horgan, hoping the industry and the New Democrats could still be friends, “I remain committed to the values I expressed during the campaign to support the ability of families working in the industry to make a decent living.”
But it remains to be seen whether he and the New Democrats can do enough to placate an industry that is used to getting its way in B.C.
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