By Linda Givetash

THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER _ As the British Columbia government explores the impact of allowing ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, a number of companies have already been operating illegally in the province.

The Passenger Transportation Branch said at least seven app platforms are known to be in use by drivers and consumers in Metro Vancouver.

An advisory issued by the branch last fall said the drivers, not the app developers, are assuming the risks of running an unlicensed commercial transit service and face fines of $1,150.

Branch director Kristin Vanderkuip told an all-party legislature committee meeting in Vancouver on Monday that $12,650 in fines have been issued to illegal drivers to date. Some of the services have been found in the Victoria area as well, she said.

The branch is trying to educate consumers about the risks of using unlicensed ride-hailing services, she said.

Ted Townsend, communications director for the City of Richmond, said Tuesday it’s difficult to tell how many drivers or services are involved and their exact location because they’re organized online and transcend city boundaries.

Municipalities can’t provide business licences to drivers or app providers because there is no legal framework for them, he said in an interview.

Officials are responding to the issue as they would with any business operating without a licence, he said, but identifying drivers is a challenge.

“It’s difficult to obtain the type of evidence and information that would be required in many cases to take action,” he said. “They’re not bricks-and-mortar type of operations so it’s hard to establish exactly where they’re operating, where they’re based.”

Townsend said a provincial framework around ride-hailing businesses, which the government is exploring through hearings this week, will help cities do their part in licensing or prohibiting services.

In the meantime, he said Richmond is working with the Transportation Ministry and neighbouring cities to crack down on illegal ride-hailing.

The ministry said it has received complaints about the unlicensed companies and has several ongoing investigations.

The Passenger Transportation Branch has issued more than 20 cease and desist orders to vehicle owners across the province, it said.

The ministry warned drivers and consumers about the risks associated with the companies.

“The driver is subject to all penalties for operating illegally on the road the driver is subject to all penalties for operating illegally on the road _ and they are subject to fines of $1,150, as well as further penalties for not disclosing the commercial use of their vehicles to their insurance provider,” it said in an emailed statement.

“Customers need to know that if they choose to get a ride through these apps they are choosing to take a trip in a vehicle that has not been licensed to operate legally and safely in B.C.”

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