The provincial government has seemingly made an abrupt u-turn on its position on Uber, saying it is only “a matter of time” before such ride sharing services are introduced into the local market.
More than a year ago, the Ministry of Transportation said it was willing to go as far as implementing an undercover sting operation to ensure “anyone who is providing a taxi-like service is doing so with a proper licence,” but this rough tone and position has since been abandoned.
“There’s clearly a growing call from British Columbians for ride sharing companies like Uber to be able to enter the British Columbia market to enter their services,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone told Vancity Buzz.
Stone says he has been meeting with ride sharing and taxi companies to hear their concerns and potentially establish a policy that complements both businesses. Uber has been criticized in other markets for undercutting long-standing taxi businesses with lower fares, lower operating costs, and failing to follow government licensing standards and procedures.
“I’m very cognizant of the fact that a number of different stakeholders, including taxi companies and taxi drivers, and ride sharing companies, who have strong views about ride sharing generally and the taxi industry and the need for the taxi industry to remain competitive,” he said. “I welcome discussion with taxi companies and the ride sharing companies because at the end of the day, British Columbians expect transportation options and convenience and competition.”
There is no timeline for when the first ride share services could begin servicing passengers legally as companies like Uber and Lyft will need to discuss with the provincial government’s Passenger Transportation Board on developing safety standards and ironing out regulation issues such as insurance and vehicle inspections.
“I’m very much focused on ensuring that if and when ride share enters the market in B.C., it’s absolutely imperative that happens all the while ensuring the taxi company is able to compete on a level playing field,” Stone added.
But even if the provincial government provides ride sharing services with the green light, Uber would still have to overcome municipal-level barriers. Municipalities in the Lower Mainland, particularly the City of Vancouver, have been vehemently opposed to such services.
“I don’t think it’s our job here at Council to grease the skids for a large corporation that wants to come in here and skim off a large amount of money… I don’t see them as an economic benefit,” Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs said in a council meeting on October 29, 2015.
During the same meeting, Vancouver City Council voted to extend a moratorium on new taxi licenses by a year and rejected a staff recommendation to allow cabs registered in other Metro Vancouver municipalities to pick up passengers within the city during weekend peak periods.
The Vancouver Taxi Association, which represents Vancouver’s four local taxi companies, has fought back against Uber with threats of legal action should it launch its service in the city. It also recently created eCab, a new amalgamated Uber-like smartphone app that allows taxi passengers to reserve the closest taxi vehicle from any of the four local taxi companies, in addition to the ability to pay, track the taxi, provide comments to the driver, and rate the driver.
There has been pent up demand for ride sharing services due to the lack of taxis on the road. According to a 2014 Simon Fraser Univeristy study, there are 1.17 taxis per 1,000 persons in Toronto, a ratio that other major Canadian cities similarly share (Montreal at 1.34, Ottawa at 1.24, and Edmonton at 1.37).
However, Metro Vancouver has just 0.64 taxies for every 1,000 regional residents, and this ratio is even lower when boundary rules are factored in.
Uber is currently available in a number of Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Ottawa, Kingston, the Niagara region, Windsor, Quebec City, and London. The smartphone app-based service had operations in Vancouver briefly in 2012 before it was forced to shut down.