Politics

Mystery surrounds Kater as it prepares to enter B.C.’s ridesharing market

Kater won’t answer any questions about how the company plans on operating or whether it will be applying for ridesharing licences once the province puts in new policies this fall.

“Kater is currently in the process of appointing our Communications Director and we are not providing interviews at this time,” reads an email from the company.

“We will be reaching out to the press over the next week to comment. We look forward to speaking with the media and sharing Kater’s newest app with the public.”

Kater has struck a deal with the Vancouver Taxi Association where cabs can be hailed by phone-based apps. Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena confirmed Monday that the Vancouver Taxi Association informed the Passenger Transportation Branch that it has entered an agreement with the Surrey-based company to use its app-based technology in the Lower Mainland.

Kater says it will offer many of the benefits ridesharing companies provide around the globe. The company is promising to “match users with the driver closest to their location and pair them with a ride in less than five minutes” and will provide upfront pricing.

For now the company still needs to follow the rules set out for taxi cabs. This includes certain licences, an inability to pick up customers outside of the taxi’s licensed area, and the requirement to charge the same as current cabs without variable pricing.

The biggest concern is that the app doesn’t go far enough and fails to offer the sort of ridesharing experience customers have had in other cities.

“This is a taxi app. We truly haven’t seen ridesharing yet,” Ridesharing Now spokesperson Ian Tostenson said.

“The optics sound like it is going to solve something. But here is the problem — it’s an app based in Vancouver so it is not going to deal with transportation across boundaries and it still suffers from taxi rules which is prescribed rates, prescribed number of cars, restricted geographic area.”

WATCH: Vancouver Taxi association breaking in to ridesharing

Some see Kater’s ability to operate with existing taxi companies as an unfair advantage. The province has promised ridesharing in the province by the fall of this year and are currently working on an insurance package with ICBC to deliver on that commitment.

But there are concerns from companies like Uber that the new provincial rules do not allow for the services users expect.

WATCH (aired December 3, 2018): Vancouver councillor looks to push ride-sharing timeline

“Maybe it’s a solution, but the only solution, no,” Adam Olsen, the B.C. Green Party’s transportation critic, said. “People want to have access to transportation options, not option, options. They want to have a competitive industry and a safe ride home.”

The B.C. government has still not made a lot of crucial decisions about how ridesharing will work in the province. The Passenger Transportation Board will be able to determine who receives a licence, how much a ridesharing company will be able to pay, and which jurisdictions the company can operate in.

The province’s Select Standing Committee on Crown Corporations is set to meet at the end of January to provide recommendations to Trevena on how ridesharing regulations should be put in place. Olsen is part of that committee.

“What I am hoping we do is not jump to any solutions at the early stage and put forward suggestions at the regulatory stage to ensure we have an industry that has competition within it,” Olsen said.

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