Rideshare laws need to protect against discrimination: UBC law prof
B.C. needs to amend laws to cover new techologies
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As B.C. lawmakers prepare to draft new legislation to allow ridehailing apps to operate in this province, they need to make sure that both passengers and drivers are protected against discrimination, says a University of British Columbia law professor.
While both rideshare passengers and drivers can file complaints through B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal, taxi drivers are bound by extra regulations through B.C.’s Passenger Transport Regulation, Erez Aloni explains.
The regulation stipulates that taxi drivers can't refuse to pick up a passenger unless they have "reasonable grounds," not to do so. For example, if giving them a ride would endanger the safety of the driver, or if the prospective passenger refused to pay.
“These rules, if you read it literally, do not apply to rideshare,” Aloni said. “These people who use their private cars are not drivers of passenger-directed vehicles.
“I think if B.C. legalizes (these platforms) it will need to amend its laws to clarify that these rules are applicable to those who are the equivalent of a taxi driver.”
Last week an all-party committee of MLAs held three days of public hearings and will prepare a report with recommendations for new legislation.
The committee heard that six companies are already operating ridehailing platforms in Metro Vancouver and Victoria. The provincial Passenger Transportation Branch has been attempting to enforce current regulations by sending cease and desist orders to companies and fining drivers $1,150 per infraction.
One of those companies, Go Kabu, is now denying a Global News report that appeared to show a driver rejecting a passenger. According to Global News, the reason the driver gave was that the company had told him “not to take any westerners.”
Ge Zhang, product development specialist for Go Kabu, said in an email that the company doesn’t discriminate against passengers on the basis of language or race, but allows its drivers to choose not to take non-Chinese-speaking passengers because some drivers only speak Chinese. The company is working on introducing more languages to its app, Zhang wrote.
“The fact one that they’re operating illegally and then doing it in a way that discriminates against most people in the province is not OK,” said Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End and a member of the parliamentary committee. “If the service is supposed to be open to the general public, which a taxi is, then it has to be open to the general public.”
Aloni explained how the Human Rights Code would apply to passengers who use ridehailing apps:
“Section 8 of the Human Rights Code particularly talks about discrimination against a person in the accommodation of a service or a facility that is customarily available to the public,” Aloni said.
He believes ridehailing apps and drivers who use them fit under that category. Even though these apps offer drivers the choice of who to pick up and when and how much to work, Aloni said that doesn’t give drivers a free pass to discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
Studies in Seattle and Boston have shown that African American passengers using the ridehailing apps Uber and Lyft waited longer for a car, and passengers with “African American sounding” names had their trips cancelled more frequently than those with “white sounding” names.
The reliance on positive passenger reviews also puts drivers at risk of discrimination, said Aloni, and drivers can be barred from using apps like Uber if their ratings fall below a certain threshold. Since they’re not considered employees, they have no cause to dispute a termination.
Then there are the companies themselves: Uber and Lyft have consistently argued that anti-discrimination laws do not apply to them.
“The reason, they have argued, is that these platforms do not provide services in the traditional sense, but they’re only connecting services with consumers,” Aloni said. He noted that regulations preventing ride refusals for taxis evolved after a long history of drivers declining to pick up passengers because of race or where they live.
“The law needs to evolve to provide meaningful protection against discrimination.”