For more than a year now, the city of Vancouver, B.C. has been wrestling with how to modernize its taxi service, and what to do about Uber, the digital ridesharing service that wants to compete there. With Uber, a passenger uses a smartphone app to flag down a nearby driver. The passenger rides in the driver’s personal vehicle. The software bills the customer directly and allows both driver and rider to rate each other. While Vancouver’s cabs are now implementing a mobile phone system of their own, there’s still no final answer, even as the demand for taxi services increases during the holidays.
As Business in Vancouver summed up on October 13, “Uber operated briefly in Vancouver from July 2012 to November of that same year, when it was shut down by the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board. Yet on Twitter, Uber Vancouver has almost 5,000 followers. But while Uber often takes part in round-table discussions on transportation at city hall, (Vancouver Councillor Geoff) Meggs said the company still hasn’t taken the necessary step of applying to the Passenger Transportation Board for re-entry into the province.” The Vancouver Sun notes that the province’s Passenger Transportation Board is often at odds with the city over cabs, and the two cannot agree on the province’s proposal to bring 38 suburban cabs into the city on weekends to ease the crunch.
As has happened in other cities, traditional taxi operators in Vancouver have complained that Uber, which doesn’t face the same taxes and regulations as cabs, has an unfair advantage. In November, 2014, four taxi companies in Vancouver, working together as the “Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA),” sued to block Uber from starting up there again, but as CBC reported, they dropped their suit this past March “as Uber has since stated it is not operating in the city.” As CBC put it then: “Uber responded…saying the taxi association’s arguments were ‘without merit.’” VTA has since said they’ll refile the suit if Uber tries again.
In October 2014, Vancouver began a review of the whole taxi/ridesharing picture, but when the city wrapped it up a year later, the report “didn’t tackle the controversial question of what do with ridesharing services like Uber, even though it pledged to do just that” as Metronews.ca put it. While the Council made some recommendations, it’s deferred major decisions for future consideration. The city also decided to extend for 12 months a moratorium on new taxi licences, which limits the supply of cabs right now.
Two days before Thanksgiving came a kind of wake-up call. A piece of replacement rail fell in front of a Sky Train, causing an electrical failure which shut down the commuter service for eight hours. It left riders on the Expo and Millennium lines stranded and delayed between the Commercial-Broadway station and Waterfront. CTV reported many affected riders tried to get cabs instead, straining the taxi system. CTV says the VTA is citing this incident to argue that the city should issue 200 “flexible licenses” to “run a part time fleet of cabs when there’s high demand.”
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Taxi Association has created an “eCab” smartphone app, to up its competitive game. Like Uber, it shows where the nearest cars are, dispatches one electronically, and bills directly, without money or plastic changing hands in the cab. However, early reviews, as reported on reddit, are somewhat mixed.
Still waiting for a ride-share.
Three years after Uber first started operating in Vancouver, this issue of cabs and ridesharing is not going away.Metronews pointed out that 45,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Uber in Vancouver. The taxi industry there insists the city needs more cabs, not Uber, and Vancouver and the province are debating jurisdictions and regulations. Uber is already operating in a number of other major Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary. There will likely be a few more acts to this drama – stay tuned!