BC Liberal govt’s announcement about ‘modernizing’ B.C. taxi industry

British Columbia plans to introduce a series of improvements to help the taxi industry modernize and remain competitive in anticipation of ride-sharing services coming to British Columbia by the holiday season at the end of 2017, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone and Community, Sport and Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender announced today.

“Over the past year, we’ve had some very important conversations with taxi companies and drivers who told us that we need to ensure fairness so they are able to compete effectively with ride sharing providers. This is why we’ve worked so hard to develop these measures, which reflects what I heard through extensive consultations and will allow ride sharing companies to operate, but also allows the taxi industry to be competitive,” said Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender while talking to the ethnic media at Grandtej Banquet hall in Surrey today.

In recognition of the important and long-standing role of the taxi industry in providing passenger transportation services in the province, the government intends to introduce a number of improvements that will ensure a level playing field in B.C. These include:

  • New app-based technology: The Province will invest up to $1 million to help the taxi industry develop an app with the capability of shared dispatch to allow the taxi sector provincewide to better compete with new entrants to the market, and allow the public to hail and pay for a taxi with a smartphone in the same way that they would for a ride-sharing service.
  • Crash prevention technology: ICBC will invest up to $3.5 million in the taxi sector to install crash avoidance technology in all B.C. taxis. This technology will improve passenger safety and help avoid crashes. An ICBC pilot showed that this technology led to a 61% reduction in at-fault, rear-end crashes and a 24% reduction in all crashes.
  • Insurance products: ICBC has been collaborating with the taxi industry to streamline the claims process, and is committed to working with the industry to improve their insurance to make it more flexible and cost effective, which could save taxi drivers significantly. Depending on the number of kilometres they drive, these savings could be in the range of 25%.
  • Reduced red tape: The Province will work with municipal governments and the taxi industry to remove red tape and overlap within the system, which will save drivers money.
  • Exclusive rights to street hailing for taxis: Taxis will retain exclusive rights to be hired by phone, at a taxi stand or flagged down at the curb.
  • Pick-up/drop-off anytime, anywhere: Ride-sharing companies typically operate across municipal boundaries. To ensure a level playing field for the taxi industry, the Province will work with municipalities and other stakeholders to allow all drivers, including taxis, the same access to provide services wherever and whenever a passenger needs a ride.
  • Open up taxi supply: The Province will work with municipalities to address the current shortage of taxis and vehicles for hire, which will provide more choice, accessibility and opportunity for both consumers and drivers.
  • In addition to these improvements, the Province will require the same safety standards for both taxis and ride-sharing providers in order to protect the public and drivers. As part of this, Class 4 licenses will be phased out for taxi drivers, and taxi and ride-sharing companies will be responsible for maintaining records that prove:
    • All drivers have an unrestricted driver’s licence (no graduated licences) and are at least 19 years of age.
    • All drivers have passed a criminal record check for past convictions of violent or sexual offenses as well as other offenses.
    • All drivers have passed a safe driving record check.
    • Vehicles have passed regular mechanical inspections.
    • Finally, the Province will make sure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect consumers through fair and transparent pricing.

      These proposed improvements are the result of extensive feedback and consultation with stakeholders throughout the province, including the taxi and limousine industry, local governments, business associations, accessibility groups, and transportation network companies. Participants told the province they wanted:

      • A fair system that welcomes new companies while ensuring that existing local operators remain competitive and continue to earn a living wage;
      • A regulated system that protects passengers, drivers and their vehicles; and
      • A modernized system that reduces red tape, unnecessary duplication and provides both consumers and drivers with more choice, opportunity and flexibility.

      Beginning this summer, government will seek additional input from taxi drivers, the ride-sharing and taxi industries, police, airports, municipalities, ICBC and RoadSafetyBC as the Province finalizes its plan in time for the 2017 holiday season.

Saudi King arrives in Indonesia with 1,500 strong entourage for first state visit in 46 years

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The first Saudi monarch to visit Indonesia in nearly half a century arrived Wednesday to an elaborate official welcome and crowds of thousands.

King Salman exited his plane at Halim airport in Jakarta using an escalator, with a portable lift carrying him the final meter or so to the ground.

He was met by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the minority Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is fighting a tough election battle after being charged with blaspheming the Qur’an.

The king was whisked off in a heavily secured convoy to a presidential palace in Bogor, outside of Jakarta, where tens of thousands of people, many of them schoolchildren, lined the route.

According to reports in the Indonesian press, the Saudi royal is estimated to have brought 459 metric tonnes of cargo with him on his trip – including two Mercedes-Benz s600 limousines and two portable electric elevators.

Adji Gunawan of the airfreight company PT Jasa Angkasa Semesta (JAS) told the Antara news agency that his company had been appointed to handle the cargo, which had arrived in the country before the King. Adji said that his company was employing a total of 572 workers to deal with the Saudi King’s luggage.

The Jakarta Post reports that the Saudi group totals about 1,500 people, including 10 ministers, 25 princes and at least 100 security personnel

Local media reported that statues of naked men and women at the palace would be covered out of courtesy to the Saudi visitors. The same step was taken when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Indonesia in January.

Salman is on a tour of Asian countries to drum up business and improve ties. On his first stop in Malaysia, oil giant Saudi Aramco signed a $7 billion deal to take a 50 per cent stake in a Malaysian oil refinery. Salman will also visit Brunei, Japan, China and the Maldives, the official Saudi Press Agency has reported.

The government of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has said Salman’s entourage and related delegations number about 1,500 people. He will spend six of his nine days in Indonesia vacationing on the resort island of Bali, a predominantly Hindu part of the Indonesian archipelago.

Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are expected to sign 10 agreements during Salman’s visit, in areas from religion to education and science. Indonesia has said it hopes the visit will result in $25 billion of new investment.

Indonesia practices a moderate form of Islam and has a democratic secular government, but Saudi-funded institutes in the country are known to encourage adoption of a highly doctrinaire interpretation of the Qur’an.


Port Mann Bridge won’t break even until 2025

ROB SHAW (Vancouver Sun)

VICTORIA — The money-losing Port Mann Bridge won’t start turning a profit until 2025 — eight years behind its original schedule, according to newly released government figures.
Financial forecasts for the bridge, provided to Postmedia News, show it is projected to continue suffering tens of millions in annual losses until 2025-26, when it hits a break-even point. After that, the forecast calls for the bridge to start aggressively repaying both its original construction costs, as well as 13 years of accumulated annual losses, before fully retiring the debt by 2050.
The $3.3 billion Port Mann/Highway 1 expansion project over the Fraser River between Surrey and Coquitlam has been plagued by lower-than-expected ridership since it opened in 2012, because drivers have mainly detoured to the nearby free Pattullo Bridge.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he remains confident the Port Mann will be paid off by 2050 — when Stone turns 78 — and that he’s heartened by a 14 per cent increase in average monthly traffic on the bridge in the last year.
“I am absolutely confident with the projections and the numbers I see and that I have put in front of me every day,” he said.
“As we said from the beginning of this project, through its construction and to this day, the entire debt related to the Port Mann Bridge project will be paid before 2050. That has never changed.”
The government had originally expected the bridge to be turning a profit in 2017-18, according to Cabinet’s 2010 letter of expectation to the Transportation Investment Corporation, the stand-alone corporation that operates the Port Mann on behalf of the government.
Instead, documents released with last week’s provincial budget project a $90 million loss, in addition to $407 million in losses over the first five years, casting doubt over the viability of a future toll bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel. Government reduced its vehicle traffic projections for the Port Mann in 2014, saying they were too aggressive.
“It’s a financial disaster for the province,” said NDP critic Claire Trevena. She said the projections showing a 2025 break-even date is part of continued “disgraceful” miscalculations by government.
“I don’t believe government’s projections because they’ve got it so wrong for so long,” she said.
The new government figures show what the province hopes will be the bridge’s path to profitability.
“The assumptions behind the numbers are conservative, projecting a much less than three per cent growth in traffic, slow toll rate increases over time, as well as increasing interest rates,” the transportation ministry said in a statement.
“As we’ve mentioned, traffic on the bridge has grown by over five to six per cent a year since 2014 (14 per cent last year), which has outpaced the conservative projections in the model that we’re using.”
The government would not provide exact traffic estimates, or projected tolls, because it said those relate to potential future policy decisions. Instead, its charts refer simply to “cash-flow,” which could be accomplished by increasing ridership, increasing tolls, or some combination of the two.
Stone said the positive bridge traffic numbers led to a recent decision not to raise tolls, which currently sit at $3.15 per regular vehicle.
Daily traffic on the Port Mann varied in 2016, from a low of an average of 103,000 drivers last January to a high of 140,400 in August. The old Port Mann Bridge averaged 127,000 drivers daily. At three per cent annual growth, the amount of vehicle traffic would more than double by 2050.
The B.C. government’s optimism for the future stands in stark contrast to the Port Mann’s current, sobering, financial statements. The bridge earned $145 million in toll revenue last year, which was quickly eaten up by $142 million in interest costs on the debt, $38 million in operating expenses and $53 million in depreciation, leaving an $88 million net loss.
The province points to other major projects as proof they can be paid off over the long term, such as the Oresund bridge linking Denmark and Sweden, which cost 2.6 billion euros and opened in 2000 with a 34-year repayment plan that remains on track despite initial loses.
The transportation ministry also pointed to Highway 407 in Ontario, a contentious tolled structure that cost $1.6 billion to build in 1997, lost money in its initial years and then began to turn a profit before it was sold to a private company for $3.1 billion in 1999.

Peel Police arrest three males for drugs and firearm offences

Arrested:Gurjeet Mann, Jatinder Sandhar and Donovan Shah

Peel – Investigators from the Peel Street Crime Gang Unit arrested three men for drug and firearm related offences. The investigation commenced in December of 2016 and concluded on February 23, 2017.
The Peel Street Crime Gang Unit commenced an investigation into individuals responsible for trafficking in Heroin in the Brampton area.
During the investigation, a search warrant was executed at a Toronto residence. As a result,a Dominion Arms .45 calibre semi-automatic pistol, with a loaded magazine, and ammunition were located and seized.
Gurjeet Mann,a 35 year old male from Mississauga, was arrested and charged with Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking in Heroin. Mann was released on a promise to appear with a court date for March 23, of 2017.
Jatinder Sandhar, a 39 year old male from Brampton, was arrested and charged with Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking in Heroin. Sandhar was released on a promise to appear with a court date for March of 23, 2017.
The street value of their combined drug possession was over $3000.
Donovan Shah, a 25 year old male from Toronto, was arrested and charged with numerous drug and firearm related offences. Shah was held for a bail hearing an appeared before the Ontario Court of Justin in Brampton on February 25, 2017.
The street value of the drugs seized amounts to over $22 000. Also seized was just over $5000 in Canadian currency.

India rejects extension on pulse imports in blow to Canada’s largest market

CALGARY — India has rejected a long-standing exemption on pest treatment for peas and lentils in a blow to Canada’s top export market for the crops.

Federal Agriculture Minister spokesman Guy Gallant confirmed the Indian government has not granted another six-month exemption that would have crops fumigated on arrival, rather than before export, as has been allowed for more than a decade.

The decision puts Canada’s pulse exports to the country, worth $1.1-billion in 2016 and $1.5-billion in 2015, in jeopardy because the required treatment of methyl bromide doesn’t work in the cold and also is being phased out because it’s damaging to the ozone layer.

“India’s our largest market for pulse crops for peas and lentils, so the importance of India can’t be overstated,” said Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.

“From a farmers’ perspective, ensuring we have ongoing, continual market access is a very important priority for us,” he said.

Some shippers have already stopped accepting pulses for export to India over fears they will be rejected on arrival, since the current exemption expires at the end of March.

Gord Kurbis, director of market access and trade at Pulse Canada, said officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and their Indian counterparts are working on a potential solution that could see Canada’s system of management practices and controls stand in for treatment before export.

But with the March deadline looming, he’s worried there’s not enough time for the scientists and regulators to approve the solution.

“The timing is definitely an issue,” said Kurbis.

He said he’s hoping officials will step in and keep the trade open until a longer-term agreement is reached.

“There needs to be awareness of this issue and intervention at the highest levels,” said Kurbis.

Gallant said the federal government is still working that long-term solution, and that the issue will come up when Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay visits India next week.

The trade issue comes after exports of peas and lentils to India grew by 20 per cent a year between 2010 and 2015 to account for about a third of all pulse exports for Canada’s 12,000 pulse farmers.

Pulse Canada says the fumigation treatment is not needed because the insects India is concerned about aren’t in Canada, and the cold winters help reduce the threat of other pests.

The issue carries some parallels to Canada’s dispute last year over canola exports to China, which had set restrictions on the amount of detritus allowed in shipments because of pest concerns.

The Canadian Press

Bank of Canada holds interest rate, warns of ‘significant uncertainties’

OTTAWA – The Bank of Canada held its benchmark interest rate steady on Wednesday and warned that it is keeping a watchful eye on “significant uncertainties” weighing on the outlook for the economy.
The scheduled rate announcement arrived as the central bank tries to assess the direction of U.S. economic policy under President Donald Trump — and the potential fallout from any policy changes he makes.
The bank has said some U.S. proposals, which include a border tax and protectionist policies, would have “material consequences” for Canadian investment and exports.
In an unusually short statement, the Bank of Canada used strong language when referring to uncertainties, as it did in the news release that accompanied its last rate announcement on Jan. 18.
At that time, two days before Trump’s inauguration, the bank indicated that “uncertainty about the global outlook is undiminished, particularly with respect to policies in the United States.”
On Wednesday, the statement said it was “attentive to the impact of significant uncertainties weighing on the outlook.”
As widely expected, the trend-setting target for the bank’s overnight interest rate stayed at the same level it’s been since July 2015: 0.5 per cent.
In explaining the decision by Governor Stephen Poloz’s council, the bank said improvements seen in recent economic data releases have been consistent with its projections.
The central bank also expects growth in the fourth quarter of 2016 — as measured by real gross domestic product — might come in slightly stronger than predicted because of recent consumption and housing data releases. Statistics Canada is scheduled to release those GDP figures Thursday.
On the downside, however, the bank said Canadian exports continue to face competitiveness challenges while the job market has seen weaker growth in wages and hours worked.
The bank made a point of emphasizing how Canada’s labour market conditions have contrasted with a much-stronger U.S. performance.
This was a way for Poloz to signal that Canada is not at the same point of the economic cycle as the U.S., said TD senior economist Brian DePratto.
DePratto expects the Bank of Canada to keep rates unchanged through 2017 even as the U.S. central bank lifts rates a couple of time over the next year.
If anything, he said Canadian rates will probably move down before they go up, especially if policy changes made by Trump slow Canada-U.S. trade.
“Anything that dampens that relationship is going to be growth negative here and could potentially mean a Bank of Canada reaction,” said DePratto, adding that interest rate policy divergence would likely weaken the Canadian dollar.
While a weaker currency could help help lift growth by encouraging exports, consumers would likely have to pay more for imported goods, like fresh fruit from places like California.
On inflation, the bank said Wednesday that it’s looking past January’s surprisingly robust headline figure of 2.1 per cent. It said the number was a result of a temporary jump caused by higher energy prices that were largely tied to the implementation of carbon-pricing policies in Ontario and Alberta.
The Bank of Canada made its rate decision amid ongoing uncertainty surrounding the policy agenda of the country’s largest trading partner.
Analysts were hoping to learn more about the bank’s thinking when it comes to potential U.S. policy changes, but the brief statement offered few details.
The Bank of Canada has yet to factor in the full range of economic policies expected under Trump in its projections.
Trump has pushed for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, though he has said the changes to the deal would only involve “tweaking.”
The U.S. proposals have created significant concerns within Corporate Canada and for the federal government.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau met his new U.S. counterpart, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for the first time. Morneau and the federal government have been trying to figure out Trump’s plans and how they may affect Canada.