VICTORIA – Interest is high in bringing ride hailing to Greater Victoria, and the Premier said recently we can expect it this month, but there are still a lot of things that need to fall in place before it happens.

Speaking on Nov. 7 at a Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce panel on the future of transportation, Catharine Read, chair of the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB), said there have been 11 applications from companies looking to operate in our region. Notably, neither of the industry’s biggest players, Uber or Lyft, have applied.

Catherine Hoolt of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce

Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce

“I am constrained in what I can say up here because there are currently a number of applications in front of the board and there are also legal actions before the courts,” Read told the crowd of 60 business and community leaders.

The PTB is an independent licensing tribunal that can regulate fleet size, rates and operating areas involving the commercial transportation of passengers.

The provincial government has taken a cautious approach to permitting ride-hailing (officially called “transportation network services” in BC).

After years of demand for BC to adopt ride hailing, which has long been popular in many parts of the world, the province finally introduced legislation last year to bring it to BC as early as this December.

However, the legislation included a number of conditions, such as requiring drivers to have a commercial licence, that some services have said will make it difficult to operate successfully outside of Vancouver.

If the wrinkles can be ironed out, the PTB does have a comprehensive plan to track data to ensure ride-hailing creates employment opportunities and options for passengers while the keep an eye on whether it’s causing congestion or harming the taxi industry or transit services — as has been reported in other jurisdictions.

That’s important because ride hailing will likely be one of the keys to changing how we think about transportation, said Erinn Pinkerton, CEO of BC Transit, who was also on the Nov. 7 panel.

“I think a lot about the future of transportation and what that means for Greater Victoria and the entire province,” Pinkerton said, prognosticating what a possible transit trip might look like in the near future.

“The Internet and technology have changed the way we interact with consumer goods,” Pinkerton said. “And it is doing exactly the same thing in transportation.”

To be viable, bus routes need to serve the most people they can as efficiently as possible. But with technology, riders will be able to use complementary services, such as ride hailing, to go from their location to a transit hub. And all of it can be done through a seamless service on your phone.

The shift will require transit to change its approach from transportation provider to mobility service, Pinkerton said.

The third speaker on the transportation panel was Phillip Bellefontaine, Assistant Director of Transportation for the City of Victoria. Bellefontaine offered a sneak peak at the city’s Go Victoria initiative.

“It’s more than a means to an end, more than moving people from point A to B,” he said, adding that at its highest level, the strategy is about healthy living and providing better mobility options than car ownership.

The trick, he said, will be making sure any transportation strategy not only works for the city, but also fits with the role and responsibilities Victoria has as part of an interconnected region. About 75 per cent of trip to Victoria originate in Saanich.

It was a fascinating discussion, that demonstrated the complexity of managing transportation. It’s clear that doing it well is key to solving many of the ongoing challenges facing Greater Victoria.

 Catherine Holt is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce