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Black-market ride-hailing endangering Burnaby's international students, says licensed rival

'It’s only a matter of time before something dire happens,' Richmond ride-hailing company, KABU, told city's public safety committee
ride-hailing sting
Police surround an illegal ride-hailing driver in Burnaby
A licensed Metro Vancouver ride-hailing service says its black-market rivals are putting Burnaby’s international students “in harm’s way every day” – and the city and school district should do something about it.

Martin van den Hemel, the communications director for Richmond-based ride hailing company KABU, made the appeal at a meeting of the city’s public safety committee last week.

“We believe it’s only a matter of time before something dire happens involving one of these international students,” he said.

He described a “flourishing” illegal ride-hailing industry that specifically targets international students.

‘Aiding and abetting’

He said unlicensed services, including Raccoon Go, Longmao and UdiX, transport as many as 2,000 students a day in Burnaby, Richmond and Vancouver.

Because their services aren’t licensed, van den Hemel said the drivers don’t have proper commercial vehicle insurance, their vehicles haven’t necessarily met vehicle safety standards and they “aren’t properly vetted, trained, monitored or disciplined.”

“Hundreds of Class 5 drivers who are not properly vetted or insured or provided with any meaningful safety training or other supports are providing transportation services to children, teenagers and young adults,” van den Hemel said.

He said the companies “prey” on the fears of “impressionable young people from China” and provide rides to minors, something that is not allowed for licensed ride-hailing services.

“Aside from bringing students to and from school every day, we’re aware of illegal practices that include underage students requesting black-market drivers to purchase cigarettes for them,” van den Hemel said. “What’s next? Buying liquor for students? How about ferrying drugs?”

Van den Hemel said the unlicensed ride hailing companies gain legitimacy in the eyes of their clients by partnering with legal food delivery platforms, like Hungry Panda and Burnaby-based Fantuan, which are very popular with the Lower Mainland’s Asian community.

He included a photo of a person wearing a Fantuan vest in his presentation and claimed Fantuan employees had been seen working alongside Raccoon Go drivers at the Vancouver airport this summer to “intercept” students arriving from China.

Cory Redekop, the Burnaby Board of Trade’s representative on the committee, said van den Hemel had included Fantuan in his presentation “a little unfairly” and clarified the local company was a legally organized business with a head office in Burnaby.

But van den Hemel said he had included Hungry Panda and Fantuan in his presentation for a reason: international students were being fooled because of the “partnership that is happening behind the scenes” between unlicensed ride-hailing services and legitimate food delivery companies.

“Although Fantuan and Hungry Panda are perfectly legal companies, they are effectively, in our eyes and the eyes of the authorities, aiding and abetting an illegal enterprise,” he said.

Fantuan has not responded to the NOW’s requests for comment. 

Enforcement not enough

Burnaby RCMP has conducted a number of enforcement blitzes and handed out tens of thousands of dollars in tickets in an effort to shut down unlicensed ride-hailing services, but van den Hemel told the committee enforcement is not enough.

He called on the city and school district to launch an education campaign warning international students of the dangers of unlicensed ride-hailing companies.

He said the school district has access to their parents, and he encouraged school officials to inform them that “these kids are being put in harm’s way.”

Trustee Larry Hayes, the school board’s representative on the committee, encouraged van den Hemel to reach out to him with more information.

When asked for comment, the school district’s managing director of international education, Angela Ferraro, sent the NOW an emailed statement:

“Throughout the school year we hold meetings with international students and include information to support them to make safe decisions,” she said. “While we haven’t heard reports from students or families that ride hailing is an issue, we’re looking into it.”

KABU – which itself operated for years as an unlicensed service targeting Chinese international students (GoKabu) before provincial legislation enabled legal ride hailing – appeared before Richmond city council last month and made a similar appeal to councillors and the school district in that city.