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Ride hailing officially arrives in Whistler

Whistle! app available for download; no timeline for uber or lyft

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NEarly a decade after the first Uber ride in San Francisco in 2011, ride hailing has officially arrived in Whistler.

Whistle!—the first ride-hailing company to be approved in B.C.—began accepting rides in the resort on Monday, Feb. 10.

Whistlerites can download the Whistle app at whistle.ca or through the App Store on iPhone or Google Play on Android.

"We're just super excited ... we're going to have our largest response in Whistler," said Whistle founder Dylan Green, adding that the company did a soft launch in Tofino on Feb. 5.

"It was the perfect opportunity to give the app a try in real life, and we're really happy how the app performed and are ready for Whistler."

The company launched with a stable of 10 drivers.

"Our goal is to really use locals with their own cars to collect fares for themselves," Green said.

"We really think that is what ride sharing is ... and we think that that's why ride sharing is going to be able to help in Whistler during those peak demand periods."

Whistle fares will be "very similar to a traditional taxi," he added, noting that the intent is not to replace existing taxi companies.

"What's unique about what we're providing is the ease of using your phone to book a ride," Green said.

"The minute a driver accepts it, you're going to know the driver and the car, you'll know exactly how long it's going to take for the car to pick you up, and you can track it in real time on your phone.

"When you get on the ride you'll see the time for your destination, and you'll be able to rate the driver at the end."

Pique tested the service on its first day of operations, catching a ride from Function Junction to Creekside at a cost of $17.75 (gratuities included).

A follow-up call to Whistler Taxi confirmed a trip from Function to Creekside would cost approximately $10 to $15, depending on the meter. Whistler Resort Cabs pegged their costs at $10 to $15 as well (read more about the experience at piquenewsmagazine.com: "Rating Whistler's new ride-hailing service," Feb. 10).

There are plans to expand Whistle to Squamish and Pemberton in the near future, but all drivers will be focused in the Whistler area at launch, Green said.

"We've already learned a lot from launching in Tofino, and launching in Whistler is going to be where we learn the most," he said.

"So we're definitely totally open to feedback from all our riders the first week, and our drivers, because that's just going to help us work with our app team to make the app more specific to Whistler and Squamish and Pemberton.

"We really want to make it specific to the regions that we're in."

While both Uber and Lyft are also approved to operate in Whistler, it's unclear when either will launch in the resort.

A spokesperson with Lyft said its timing will depend on the number of drivers it can secure in the community.

"As we enter B.C., we believe the best way to uphold our high standards for both riders and drivers is to begin operating in a select area," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"As we fine-tune our operations and bring more drivers into the community, we'll expand our operating area. Over time, we will work to serve the entire region."

An Uber spokesperson offered a similar statement, saying the company would like to service the entire region but it's a matter of having enough drivers to meet demand.

"There's no definitive timelines attached," the spokesperson said. "Uber right now has a fairly robust service area in the Metro Vancouver area, and it will grow organically as the number of drivers available increases."

From a municipal perspective, the Resort Municipality of Whistler is issuing business licenses to ride-hailing companies, with Whistle and Lyft the only two companies to apply so far (both were approved).

"I haven't tried (Whistle), but I welcome it. Technology makes things better," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who sits on the municipal Transportation Advisory Group.

"It makes sense for me, and if it's better for the customer then that's better for tourism and better for everybody, right?"

As for if the ride-hailing innovators can coexist with Whistler's existing cab companies, Forsyth is optimistic.

"I think they'll be able to. Those are long-established companies," he said.

"But at the same time, no one frets about the demise of a shoemaker, or the horseshoe guy, right?"

Whistler Taxi is doing its part to keep up with the times, with an app of its own set to launch on Feb. 17, said part-owner Jinder Nijjar.

The app will show passengers how long their ride will take to arrive and allow them to choose what type of vehicle they need, as well as provide the company with accurate analytics on drivers and their routes to offer improved service, Nijjar said.

It's not clear how the advent of ride hailing will impact traditional taxi business in the resort, Nijjar said, noting that it's a wait-and-see approach.

"We are doing our best right now ... how (ride hailing) works, let's see. Right now we are going with the flow," Nijjar said.

"This is a tourist town ... when it's busy, it's busy, when it's slow, it's very slow, right? And yeah, I want to see what's going to happen."

One factor to watch will be the availability of drivers, he added. Whistler Taxi has 40 cabs and employs 50 to 60 drivers, but "we are always short," Nijjar said.

"We have a very hard time finding drivers, and so let's see what kind of drivers (the ride-hailing companies) get ... that's the most challenging for them."

Prospective Whistle drivers need a commercial Class 4 license, but can apply for a restricted Class 4, Green said, which means they can take the road test in their own vehicle.

Drivers require a criminal record check and a driver record check, as well as a vehicle that is 10 years old or newer, though Whistle has procured four of its own vehicles that it will rent to interested drivers when they want to do a shift.

Whistle drivers also won't need to switch their rate class with ICBC, Green added.

"Because it's all app based and we have all the data with GPS and everything, we know where the pickups are, we know where the drop-offs are," he said.

"We provide the data to ICBC from the moment you accept a ride ... and those kilometres are on our insurance, so your car is covered under our insurance if anything happens."

As for the question of peaceful coexistence among local transportation companies, Green is also an optimist.

"I ran Tofino Bus for 16 years and quickly realized that being a transportation business, you need to work with your neighbouring transportation companies, because it's such a demanding industry that no one can do it alone," he said.

"The more you can work together, the better it is for the passengers ... we're looking forward to being a member of the transportation team up there."

Editor's note: Pique was initially quoted $15 to $20 for a Whistler Resort Cabs ride from Function Junction to Creekside, as originally stated in this story. The company has since followed up to say the cost is actually $10 to $15. The updated story reflects that change.

- with files from Megan Lalonde