Ride hailing service to launch in Prince George

A ride hailing service is about to take to the city's streets.

Coastal Rides has been operating along the Sunshine Coast since late February and will be expanding into Prince George starting with a soft launch sometime next week, said owner Ryan Staley.

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He said the move is being made after he was contacted by some drivers in Prince George who had hoped to work for another company that failed to get a licence.

Staley said he wanted to make sure the business was running smoothly where it is currently operating before taking the leap while the COVID-19 pandemic also forced a delay. But with the province now into Phase 3 of the restart plan, a handful of drivers have been recruited and are just about ready to go.

Like other services of its kind, it's centred on an app, which can be found through www.coastalrides.ca. Once downloaded, you'll be asked to set up an account and provide your credit card information.

Through your phone, the app will know where you are when you put in a request for a ride. You put in the address of the place you want to go to and it will give you an estimate of the fare.

Once you've confirmed you want the ride, it will search for a driver who is on duty. The passenger will be given the driver's first name and photo along with a description of the vehicle and its licence plate number.

Drivers must hold any of a class one, two or four licence, have been issued fewer than four tickets with points in the last two years and have had no driving suspensions in the last three. They must also clear a criminal record check.

They must also own their own vehicle, it must be less than 10 years old, and it must be a four-door with a Plexiglas or vinyl barrier between the front and back seats to prevent the spread of COVID. Passengers will be required to sit in the back seat.

Drivers will be limited to no more than three passengers at a time for the time being. The fare charged is based on time and distance and starts at $10.

"It'll be slightly cheaper (than a taxi) although we have to make sure drivers are being compensated fairly so it's not a deep discount," Staley said.

"The other benefit is knowing a vehicle is on the way to pick you up - you'll be able to see that in the app. Also, the payment process is done entirely through the app, so contactless payment which, especially right now, is a big plus.

"And once we're out of the COVID-19 situation, we'll also offer pool drives where if two riders are headed in the same direction, our system will send the driver in the same direction to pick up multiple people. That's when the costs for a ride will really come down."

Drivers will be able to work whenever they want but will be limited to no more than 12 hours per day and 70 hours over seven days. Staley predicted they will be in high demand during weekend bar closures and at Christmas time when the taxis are struggling to get to all the calls they receive.

At least two other fledgling ride-hailing services tried but failed to get approval from the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in northern B.C. largely because the board found their applications lacked important details.

"It's really about understanding what your responsibilities are for having drivers on board and for monitoring them and that wasn't just a quick 'oh, yeah, we can do that,'" Staley said. "We really had to think about the process and make sure we felt comfortable with it."

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