When I first heard about Uber, the global ridesharing service that wants to come to British Columbia, my first instinct was to reject the idea.
What to make of a business model that upsets the longstanding and reliable taxicab industry?
Taxis have been successfully governed for a long time by provincial regulations established to protect consumers. Many are owned by small business people who have invested in building a future and creating jobs. There is a lot to be said in favour of taxis.
Ridesharing alternatives like Uber have grown explosively around the world, and in recent months Uber’s intentions in B.C. have been a matter of increasing debate.
I’m not surprised they want to come to here. We’re a tech-savvy bunch. Yet Metro Vancouver is the largest population in North America without access to ridesharing.
It’s not as if Uber is the only company that promises to do for personal rides what eBay did for selling merchandise.
Lyft, Didi (China), Ola (India), and Blablacar (Europe) offer ridesharing services in hundreds of cities around the world. If I can get an Uber in Delhi, London, and (as of last week) Edmonton, why can’t I do the same in Victoria, Surrey, or Vancouver?
Some have defined capitalism as creative destruction: new business models constantly challenging old ones.
You can bet the entertainment and media industries were not eager to be disrupted by digital technology. Today, who would want to go back to CDs, Blockbuster stores, or complete reliance on printed newspapers?
It seems like the British Columbia government, eager to showcase the high-tech industry taking hold here, has indicated some support for the disruptive Uber model. But now we are hearing complaints that Victoria is not moving decisively enough to approve ridesharing.
I’ve been asking taxi drivers lately what they think about Uber. My assumption was they would not have positive feelings about ridesharing, that they would see it as a threat to their jobs.
I could not have been more wrong. They want to have Uber because they understand that as Uber drivers themselves, they could make the same money as driving a taxi.
Do some taxi license owners have different views? No doubt.
I recently had the opportunity to try Uber. The experience was great.
A car of my choosing was on the way within seconds of my placing my first order using the app. As a woman, I liked that the driver’s name and photo was visible on the car, so I could verify before getting in that the app info matched the person behind the wheel – a factor that also means more women might consider becoming drivers themselves.
No cash changed hands, reducing robbery risk. The car was GPS-tracked the entire way.
And it also turns out that ridesharing is green and cuts road congestion because it encourages more-efficient use of empty passenger seats.
Uber drivers told me they have control over their own hours, better work-life balance, and more quality family time. Lots of them also said they like being able to work as regular taxi drivers too.
On top of all this, it was easy, clean and saved me money.
Ridesharing has been regulated throughout the United States, including in Bellingham. Across Canada, cities are making progress on new regulations for ridesharing as a safe, affordable, convenient transportation option.
Like so many others who support taxis, I am now ready to also support Uber. The experience elsewhere shows we can have both. The advantages are overwhelming: I would like to have Uber and other services like it as options to use at home in Surrey, too. The provincial government needs to catch up so we are not left behind.
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