Surrey mayor calls Uber a ‘bully’ after city loses court case

Doug McCallum says Uber should have waited for a regional licensing framework for ride hailing, which was approved by him and other mayors on January 30 – two days after Surrey’s bylaw officers started fining Uber and its drivers

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum took to his council chamber microphone for 12 minutes Monday evening to admonish ride-hailing company Uber after the company won an injunction against the municipality to halt ticketing of its contracted drivers.

McCallum said what Uber “should have done in Metro Vancouver is waited until we got the regional plan together, which by the way we have done; we have voted on it and some of the structure in it still has to be worked out.”

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Although McCallum voted against an inter-municipal licence (IMBL) last December at a Mayors’ Council meeting, he subsequently voted in favour of such a licence on January 30 – two days after Surrey bylaw officers started fining Uber and its drivers.

Calling the company a “bully” and forewarning of more scofflaw companies poised to ignore city bylaws in the future, McCallum said he nevertheless would abide by last week’s court order and hopes to soon have in place a regional business licence for ride-hailing companies that align with taxi regulations, including harmonized fees, boundaries, insurance costs, access for disabled passengers and fleet caps.

A licensing system with this “level playing field” caveat followed a closed-doors meeting between all mayors January 30.

On Monday, Surrey city council unanimously agreed to direct staff toward working with the region’s municipalities, via TransLink’s Mayors Council, for an IMBL for the likes of Lyft and Uber.

McCallum said the “level playing field” is critical for his support, given the impact ride hailing could have on taxi jobs, which are largely based in Surrey.

Speaking of ride-hailing vehicles at the moment, McCallum said, “They can go everywhere, they can have as many as they want …and that will destroy the [taxi] industry.”

McCallum continued to defend his city’s actions, again claiming Uber violated city bylaws by operating without a business licence.

McCallum attempted to differentiate the ticketing actions of bylaw officers and the alleged violation of operating without a bylaw.

“The recent court case has been decided, and that was on the issue of issuing fines. And we will abide by the ruling,” he said.

“But it wasn’t to do with the business licence.”

He then said Uber “still went ahead and came into two cities, at least Vancouver and Surrey, without waiting to get a business licence. The courts didn’t rule on that, but they did rule we couldn’t issue a fine,” said McCallum. (Vancouver did create a ride-hailing licence).

However, because of the lack of regional licence in place to date, the city’s unwillingness to create its own municipal ride-hailing bylaw in the meantime was a critical factor to its loss in court last week.

In fact, BC Supreme Court Justice Veronica Jackson ruled that there was a reasonable argument to made by Uber that the ticketing of the company and its drivers could be a violation of the company’s rights given the city had taken no steps to implement its own ride-hailing bylaw since superseding provincial legislation was introduced last September.

“Surrey has been attempting to ride two horses at once – it has told Uber there’s no business licence to which it can apply yet has been ticketing Uber for not having a business licence,” stated Justice Jackson in her ruling.

Although most Metro Vancouver cities have a ride-hailing licensing bylaw in place now (and those that do not, such as North Vancouver, have publicly stated fines will not be issued until a regional licence is in place), a staff report to council Monday asserts Surrey council had not been provided “a reasonable opportunity to consider amendments to the Business License Bylaw and/or to consider how Council wishes to proceed with regulating the industry.”

General manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo stated in his report that city staff had “been participating in good faith with all [Metro Vancouver] municipalities towards the development of an IMBL framework [bylaw] as directed by the Dec 12, 2019 Mayors’ Council.”

“Staff from the City of Surrey have been participating in the IMBL Working Group since its inception in August 2019,” wrote Costanzo.

This is despite McCallum voting against the IMBL last December.

Costanzo’s report notes fines were issued against Uber on January 28, two days before McCallum got the regional plan together.

Read the report here

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