(Flickr image)

Surrey bylaws tactics with Uber drivers ‘entrapment’ and ‘completely wrong’

That’s what Councillors Brenda Locke and Linda Annis had to say Monday about city staff hailing Uber drivers then issuing them warnings

Surrey City Councillor Linda Annis dismisses as “completely wrong” the city bylaws enforcement department’s tactic of “luring” Uber drivers into Surrey only to hit them with a warning and the ride-hailing company with a $500 fine.

Councillor Brenda Locke echoed that.

“I think it’s an entrapment,” Locke said. “There are literally hundreds of businesses in Surrey that operate without a business licence.

“It seems pretty obviously directed at the mayor’s project, which I think is unfortunate,” she said. “Surrey is not an island in all this. We are part of Metro Vancouver, we should be working with all of the other communities, cities in Metro Vancouver to make sure there’s some kind of coordinated effort.”

“This is just pure silliness.”

Michael van Hemmen, in charge of Uber for Western Canada, says his company does not believe the City of Surrey has the authority to block it from doing business here.

“Premier Horgan has been clear that municipalities do not have the authority to prevent ridesharing companies from operating,” he stated. “Uber and drivers have all the required approvals from the provincial government and the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in Metro Vancouver. We do not believe there is any legal basis for drivers to be fined by the City of Surrey.”

Nevertheless, Annis said Monday that city staff told her three bylaws enforcement officers were directed to hail Uber drivers. “I know they were doing it over the weekend. I’m not sure whether or not they’re still doing it. What I do know is that the bylaw officers that were calling the ride-hailing services were issuing warnings only to the drivers but were fining Uber at $500 per trip into Surrey.”

It was not known at press time how many warnings or fines had been issued. Rob Costanzo, the city’s general manager, did not return requests for comment. Nor did Kim Marosevich, Surrey’s bylaws enforcement manager.

READ ALSO: Surrey tells Uber to cease operations in citym but company ‘respectfully’ declines

READ ALSO: Uber says it’s been serving North Surrey since 8 a.m. Friday

READ ALSO: Surrey mayor the lone vote against regional business licensing for ride hailing

Asked if she thinks this is city business, or political business, Annis replied, “I think this is political business.”

“I feel it’s a very bad use of bylaw officers’ time – they should be focusing in on enforcing public safety issues in our city, not calling Uber drivers to come out to the city only to issue them a warning for coming here,” she said.

“The direction to city staff I don’t feel was appropriate. I don’t think this is proper utilization of city staff or resources, to bring in drivers only to issue them a warning. I think that is completely inappropriate,” she said. “T0 me it is completely wrong.”

Annis said there is a process set in place to approve how Uber will be operating in this city and “we should be letting the proper process to take shape, not luring Uber drivers or other ride-hailing services into Surrey only to issue infraction notices.”

Mayor Doug McCallum has voiced vehement opposition to ride hailing in Surrey, claiming it’s unfair to local taxi drivers. City Hall issued a canned statement Friday, after the Now-Leader sought his response to the Passenger Transportation Board’s approval of ride hailing companies operating in Metro Vancouver. He said this development hasn’t changed his position on the issue.

“What continues to be my chief concern is the unfair advantage that has been created without any regard as to how it will impact those who are employed in the taxi industry,” McCallum stated in his press release. “It is no secret that a large percentage of cab drivers live in Surrey and the modest wages they earn go to support their families. As residents and as my constituents, it is my duty to do what I can to ensure that these jobs are not lost due to an unfair advantage that has been arbitrarily put in place.”

Meantime, there was uber confusion over the ride-hailing company operating in North Surrey on Friday, despite McCallum vowing to deny such ride-hailing companies business licences here. Matt MacInnis, vice president of corporate communications for Uber, told the Now-Leader that pick-ups and drop-offs were available in parts of Surrey as of 8 a.m. Friday.

On Friday night, the City of Surrey sent a letter to Uber to cease its operations by 9 p.m. but Uber declined.

McCallum argues that the taxi industry “meets the needs of all its passengers by having vehicles for hire that can accommodate people of all abilities.

“Until I am assured that a level playing field is established, I will not be supporting the issuing of ride hailing business licenses and, if there is a need, I will be asking for an increase in taxi licenses for operation in Surrey,” he said. “I look forward to hearing about how the region will work with the province to ensure there is fair competition in the marketplace between ride hailing companies and the taxi industry.”

MacInnis said that “when it comes to business licences, there is a inter-municipality business licence process that the mayor’s council is going through now, and Uber is participating in the process.”

A Lyft press release issued by public relations company Citizen Relations indicated on Friday that there “are currently three driver hubs located in Surrey, Richmond and the City of Vancouver.” But Laurie Fletcher, a senior account executive with Citizen Relations, said Lyft is not operating in Surrey yet; however, we will be continuing to expand the operating area.

“We do have a hub there (in Surrey),” she said, “but we aren’t operating it there yet.”

“I can’t comment on the exact time,” she added. “We don’t have an official time frame.”

MacInnis said Monday he was unaware of any fines being laid. “I’ve been advised that two drivers received warning notices but to my knowledge no driver has received a fine.”

Annis said that if this ride-hailing business was not dealt with at Monday night’s meeting, “certainly if it’s not coming up I will ask that this be dealt with at the next council meeting in terms of how we’re going to position ride-hailing for the city. It’s not been voted on by council yet, and it’s not been discussed by council, so I think that’s the very obvious next step for us to do.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman, who has been a vocal advocate of ride hailing in Surrey, said the board is pleased with Lyft and Uber being approved to operate in the Lower Mainland and Whistler.

“Surrey needs ridesharing,” she said. “Surrey needs more transit and transportation options. We hope all local government decision makers see the need for this in Surrey.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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