Ride-hailing app for taxis to hit Burnaby streets before Uber, Lyft

Surrey-based Kater providing tech for new Vancouver Taxi Association service

Lower Mainland residents could be hailing a ride using a smartphone app as early as late February – but they won’t get picked up by an Uber or Lyft driver.

Kater, a self-described ride-hailing app from Surrey, will get a head start on the two popular services used in almost every major North American city except Metro Vancouver. 

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The Vancouver Taxi Association recently entered an agreement with Kater Technologies Inc. to use the app in 141 of its cabs, 20 of which will be operated by Burnaby-based Bonny’s Taxi.

Kater vehicles will be marked differently from regular taxis and will only pick up passengers who pre-arrange a trip via the app. The company’s website says it will charge a base fare of $3.20, plus 55 cents per minute or $1.84 per kilometre.

On Monday, Burnaby city council directed staff to relax city bylaws to make way for Kater. The cars won’t be required to have an illuminated light, the word “taxi” or “cab” on the vehicle or a meter inside the vehicle. 

The bylaws requiring regular inspections, a chauffeur's permit for drivers and 24-hour service provided “to all persons” will remain.

Kater plans to start a one-year pilot project on Feb. 23.

The new service will have the opportunity to operate as a sort-of hybrid of taxi and ride-hailing before Uber and Lyft are allowed into the market.

The provincial government expects to have the insurance products ready for ride-hailing by this coming fall. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has not given a firm date on when Uber and Lyft drivers will be able to hit the road.

“As soon as ICBC gets that product in place, we’ll be able to move on that, and then it’s a part of how quickly PTB (Passenger Transportation Branch) can move,” Trevena said in November 2018. “We are working as quickly as we can. We were left with problems at ICBC.”

Burnaby Coun. Pietro Calendino said he is happy to see Kater coming to the city, noting its vehicles will be subject to annual inspections – a requirement that does not exist for ride-hailing vehicles in other jurisdictions. 

“This will be under our safety control by the city, and that’s a good thing to have,” Calendino said. “I think it gives the taxi company a way of being able to prepare for a way of competing with real ride-hailing once the province will allow them in, so I think it’s a good start.”

Bonny’s donated $8,875 to the Burnaby Citizens Association – of which Calendino and six other councillors are members – between 2015 and 2017, before new campaign donation restrictions came into force. Bonny’s general manager, Emon Bari, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Reached by phone, Vancouver Taxi Association spokesperson Carolyn Bauer said she would not be commenting on the Kater deal at this time. Kater also declined comment. 

Lyft spokesperson Fatima Reyes declined an interview request but provided a statement to the NOW.

“People across the province have made it clear they want real choice when it comes to transportation, not just more taxis,” she wrote in an email. “Kater is a taxi service, not ridesharing, meaning it is subject to the same rules that make taxis unreliable.”

Reyes said Lyft hopes to launch in B.C. later this year, once regulations change. 

The NOW reached out to Uber for comment. Ian Tostenson, spokesperson for Ridesharing Now, said he was asked by a representative of the company to respond on its behalf.

Tostenson said Kater will not be able to provide the type of service commuters expect from ride-hailing. Kater’s fees and its number of drivers on the road at any one time will not respond to demand like with Uber and Lyft, he said. 

Tostenson, who is also the CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, said the province needs ride-hailing as soon as possible.    

- With files from Tyler Orton, Business in Vancouver

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