Opinion: Ridesharing in Vancouver is great, but let’s proceed with caution

Jan 25 2020, 1:49 am

Submitted to Daily Hive by a reader who wishes to stay anonymous. To have your say, email us at [email protected].

After what felt like an endless stream of arguments, lobbying, and bureaucratic red tape, ridesharing has finally come to Vancouver. Many have lamented that a lack of such services had signalled Vancouver was still living in the Dark Ages, that our little big city had not yet grown up or stepped into the modern era.

For many, the news that this service is finally here comes as a relief. Plenty has been written about our taxi shortages, safety issues related to both taxi driver attacks and abandoned riders, and the general accountability of our city’s taxi force.

Much has also been said about the evils of ride-hailing — unethical dealings of companies like Uber, the exploitative nature of gig economies, ridesharing’s own safety concerns, and improper support of those with disabilities.

As a frequent international traveller, I have experienced the superior user experience that comes with ridesharing. There is no question that this service is an improvement over the traditional taxi experience.

You know who your driver is before you get in the car. You know how much the ride will cost before you book your trip. You can leave personalized feedback for your driver, and drivers are held accountable as a result of this feedback. It’s much easier to track a rideshare driver after the fact than it is to track a random taxi for which you didn’t manage to get the car number. Money doesn’t exchange hands at all — you even tip within the app.

Rejoice! Count me as one of the jubilant ones. We are finally stepping into the light.

With this joy, however, should also come caution.

As community members, even if we stand to benefit the most from ridesharing (I am certainly within that category, an able-bodied person with no accessibility limitations), we should still be mindful of our fellow citizens that may not be so successfully served with these new services.

The conversation surrounding accessibility and safety was previously regarded as an argument “against” these services being implemented within the Lower Mainland, and as a result, they were often angrily dismissed by people that just so desperately wanted Uber or Lyft.

Those who live with disabilities often feel invisible and unheard, as if they do not have a voice within our society. It’s been well documented that support for disabilities within the ridesharing space is rudimentary at best. Taxi drivers have much more extensive training on the subject than any rideshare driver would. There is no guarantee that any cars within the ridesharing fleet will be accessible or wheelchair-friendly. Taxi fleets in Vancouver are required to have around a 19% accessibility rate. Even this number feels shockingly low.

It’s easy for those of us who are not disabled to be dismissive of these concerns: “Just take a taxi” or “Of course it will take longer” — but this quite frankly is the lazy way out, lacking basic compassion and empathy for our fellow community members.

We must be mindful of these challenges, remember that not everyone within our cities are granted equal access and respect, and hold companies accountable when they fail our fellow citizens. What does a fully accessible future look like, and how do we move towards it? I don’t know, but I do know we have to keep talking about it and keep pushing.

In addition to accessibility concerns, we will need to keep an eye out for the rideshare drivers. Gig economies are especially predatory, with those doing the actual work making far less money, receiving no benefits, contending with reduced personal safety, and dealing with an unreliable income source.

Most of the stories about ridesharing have been written and read from the “customer” perspective, but these are two-way interactions, a double-sided relationship. I’ve been part of many conversations where people seem to forget that this is a service powered by other humans, and that their experiences are just as worthy of consideration as those using the service. There is a possibility of exploitation here that cannot be swept under a rug.

I hope the drivers in the Lower Mainland have a good experience, and that this opportunity allows them to make a good income. I hope that we as a city, and as a province, continue to demand improved accessibility for our disabled citizens. I truly hope that the taxi companies will see this new era as a chance to evolve, focus on customer complaints, and improve their services — more viable options are better for consumers than less.

And I very much hope that we can all view this change for what it is — a complex issue that comes with benefit, but at a certain cost.

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