Ridesharing app Kater prepares to soft-launch service in Vancouver

Later this month, a few select Vancouver residents will be able to use a ridesharing app after Kater soft-launches the first service in B.C.

Customers have been getting asked to register on the website as of Thursday. Some will then be asked to download the app, and will be able to ask for rides as of March 30.

Kater has access to 141 cars, but only 30 to 40 will hit the road on the opening weekend.

“Kater is here and now,” the company’s communications director Corrie Larson said. “We had the technology and we saw and heard the demand [for ridesharing], and we are providing a solution which is needed.”

While most ridesharing companies provide only the app and let private drivers pick up passengers, that’s currently not allowed in B.C., which only allows licensed taxis to transport people.

Kater appears to have found a loophole by obtaining its permits through the Vancouver Taxi Association, meaning it can only operate with licensed taxi drivers. The cars will be brand new and will be branded with the new logo, and can only be ordered through the app — but people will still have to pay taxi rates.

“Kater is operational in Vancouver because we have been compliant with all the rules and regulation,” Larson said. “That means we have to adhere to them including the pricing structure.”

Critics say calling Kater “ridesharing” is doing British Columbians a disservice. While companies like Uber and Lyft — with proven technology — are unable to operate in B.C. until at least the fall under provincial legislation, a local company is getting a months-long head start.

“One local company is going to start testing 30 cars in a city of 2.5 million people,” BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Johal sits on the committee that is making recommendations to the government on ride-hailing. Those recommendations are expected to include scrapping the Class 4 driver’s licence requirement the NDP has said will be part of the legislation.

“If you stick to Class 4, what you are really doing is limiting Uber and Lyft from entering the market,” Johal said.

A statement provided by the Ministry of Transportation indicates the recommendations are due to be tabled by the end of the month, and other companies can apply to operate in the fall.

The government also said the legislation that was passed focuses on safety for both passengers and drivers.

When Kater does launch, its licences will be restricted to only pick up in Vancouver. Cars can take passengers anywhere, but like taxis they won’t be able to make the return trip with any paying passengers in the car.

The province’s coalition for ridesharing, Ridesharing Now for BC, has been lobbying the province to implement rules that make sense for everyone, and say Kater isn’t it.

“We should welcome Uber and Lyft as well as a healthy taxi industry,” Surrey Board of Trade president and coalition member Anita Huberman said. “Kater is nothing more than a Band-Aid solution.”

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