British Columbia’s Passenger Transportation Branch ordered the owners and drivers of 14 vehicles that were listed on a black market ride-hailing app to stop charging passengers for rides or face fines up to $5,000.
None of the 14 was fined. Several ignored the cease and desist letters and no further action was taken, according to documents released to theBreaker under freedom of information.
Late last August, PTB sent registered mail letters, signed by registrar Kristin Vanderkuip, that threatened prosecution under section 23 of the Passenger Transportation Act. The law states that commercial passenger vehicles may only be operated by a person with a valid licence to do so. Penalties range from $1,000 to $5,000 for anyone operating a black market taxi or limo service.
The letters were a result of an investigation during late-April to mid-May 2017 by a PTB inspector who found a variety of vehicles, some of them luxury imports, available for hire in Richmond on the RaccoonGo app, which is designed for Chinese drivers and passengers. RaccoonGo is one of seven companies that the PTB is aware of which compete in a black market while industry leaders Uber and Lyft lobby for ride-hailing to be legalized in B.C. The government targeted drivers, not the apps, because driving is regulated and the technology is not.
Five of the cars were BMW models, including a 2016 BMW 328i, and one was a 2017 Audi A4.
In only one case of the 14 did police intervene. The owner of a 2014 BMW 435i received the order by registered mail on Aug. 30. The incident report shows that PTB inspector Douglas Pickering called the Coquitlam RCMP on Oct. 17. On the same day, Mounties served a four-month prohibition against driving from the superintendent of motor vehicles, for an unspecified unsatisfactory driving record.
A prepared statement sent to theBreaker by Danielle Pope, a representative of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the aim is information before enforcement.
“We are confident that the information in the cease and desist orders regarding fines for operating without a licence as well as the information in the public advisories are a sufficient deterrent,” the statement said. “However, as this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to provide further comment related to enforcement actions.”
A driver of a Toyota Corolla, whose car was listed on the app May 2, admitted in an Aug. 30 email that he had been on the RaccoonGo service, but was no longer. “I’m not using and I will not use my vehicle to work for RaccoonGo, and I have nothing to do with this company,” the driver wrote.
A 2013 BMW X3 owner replied Sept. 12 in these five words, without disputing the PTB notice: “I got this letter, thanks.”
Letters were sent to the lease companies for a 2017 Honda Accord and Mazda 3. PTB eventually received emails from drivers claiming: “I lent this car to someone else. But now I understand the Act, will comply with it.”
A 2015 Porsche Cayenne lessor told PTB that the lessee denied operating the vehicle for commercial passengers and asked for proof on Aug. 30. A Sept. 10 handwritten letter of consent said: “I (name censored) can assure that the vehicle has not been used for commercial purpose recently; In response to the Passenger Transportation Act. I clearly understand and agree to comply with the Act with my earnest cooperation.”
A 2012 BMW X5 owner claimed in a phone call with PTB that it was a mistake, that “somebody hacked his app.”
A letter was sent to the lessor of a 2016 BMW 328i spotted April 26, but the letter was returned to sender. A registered letter to a 2016 Mazda 3 owner was signed for by the subject on Aug. 30, but no reply was received by PTB. The letter to the lessee of a Jeep Wrangler sent Sept. 19 was returned to sender.
The 2017 Audi A4 and 2014 Infiniti Q4 owners denied the violations. The owner of a 1997 Lexus ES300 replied by email on Sept. 2: “I want to clarify that my vehicle is only for family uses. Mainly for driving to work and shopping. Sometimes for my wife and son. So I don’t understand why I received that letter.”
At the end of January, the government said over 20 cease and desist orders had been issued and 23 fines of $1,150 were levied against drivers operating without a licence. It warned that unlicensed ride hailing vehicles operate without government-approved safety checks, insurance for paying passengers and the drivers aren’t vetted by police.
Lawyer Paul Doroshenko said the lax enforcement is a legacy of the previous BC Liberal government, which didn’t adequately fund or direct staff and officers to uphold laws.
“Looking back at the last five years of the BC Liberal regime, it just seemed like the attorney general’s office and the solicitor general’s office might as well have been vacant, because nothing seems to have happened,” Doroshenko said. “It was like they were coming in for coffee or something.”
He noted the timing of the investigation was during and shortly after the election, when the government was operating in caretaker mode without oversight from politicians.
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