NDP government on the defensive over ride-hailing review
VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan brushed aside criticism Tuesday that his government is pandering to its political friends in the taxi industry with the announcement of a one-sided review of ride-hailing that excludes companies like Uber and Lyft.
Horgan faced questions in the legislature about why his government broke an election promise to introduce ride-hailing this year, and why he chose to task independent consultant Dan Hara with talking to the traditional taxi associations but not the actual ride-hailing companies, which refer to their service as "ride-sharing."
"The people that are sitting on that side of the house knew for five years that ride-sharing was coming to British Columbia, and for five years they kept booting the ball down the field until just before the election," Horgan said in response to questions from Opposition Liberal leader Rich Coleman.
"Just before the election, they said: 'Look, we've got a solution.' And the solution led to more of us on this side of the house than them on that side of the house. So I make no apologies to the now leader of the Opposition for wanting to get ride-sharing ... right, rather than wanting to get it done for political reasons, which is why you had a bogus consultation in March that led to a blank slate for us to fill in."
The NDP won votes from thousands of cab drivers in the election with a promise to protect their jobs during any changes to legislation. The issue played well in key Metro Vancouver ridings, like Surrey, several of which the NDP won from the Liberals. The Opposition Liberals charged Tuesday that the NDP is unwilling to anger friends in the taxi industry by actually making a decision to allow ride-hailing.
"He's afraid to make the tough decisions — only easy ones," said Coleman.
Horgan defended the delay, arguing the previous Liberal government made a mess of the file with a proposal in March to allow ride-hailing that taxi drivers argued would devalue their existing licences.
"We were committed, when we came to government in the middle of the summer, to bringing in ride-sharing on the assumption that they had done something in five years," Horgan said of the Liberals. "As it turned out, they hadn't."
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena was also quizzed about whether Horgan's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, actually ordered the taxi review, given his lengthy history on the taxi file as a former Vancouver city councillor. Meggs was on council in 2015 when the city hired Hara to conduct a taxi and ride-hailing review. Trevena admitted this week she hasn't actually read that review, before hiring Hara to do another.
Trevena continued to insist the point of the $165,000 review is to better understand the taxi industry across the province. The terms of reference spell out a review designed to “consider changes to modernize the existing industry in a way that allows the taxi industry to remain viable and compete on equal footing should additional passenger directed vehicle services, such as commercial ride-share, be introduced in B.C.”
"Obviously, any other organization that wants to participate can get in touch with Dr. Hara," said Trevena. "But our first step here, and it is a first step, is to deal with the taxi industry."
The taxi industry has said it welcomes the review, although Uber has expressed concern at being shut out. The government said it could have legislation to allow ride-hailing ready for late 2018.