‘We need more taxis’: Companies want to boost service after taxing NYE
Published Sunday, January 3, 2016 5:39PM PST
Last Updated Sunday, January 3, 2016 6:49PM PST
Vancouver taxi companies say they’re applying to put almost 200 new cabs on the road after struggling to meet demand on New Year’s Eve, despite beefed-up taxi service.
But Yellow Cab’s Carolyn Bauer says unlike in cities with ride-hailing app Uber, at least no one locally was taken by surprise by eye-popping fares that were as high as $1100.
That’s what happened to one Edmonton man using the car-hiring app Uber on the holiday – one of many Canadians fuming about Uber’s controversial “surge-pricing” feature.
“That’s crazy. To me that’s just crazy,” said Carolyn Bauer, the General Manager of Yellow Cab in Vancouver, which has been battling the app’s arrival in B.C. “People look at the sexy word ‘Uber’ and don’t understand the implications.”
Uber is a popular platform that hooks up drivers with people willing to pay for transportation. It’s operating in hundreds of cities but legal hurdles have kept it from opening here.
One feature of its app is surge pricing: the company raises fares in periods of high demand. Uber says it is attempting to lure more drivers on the road to meet that demand. The app does warn riders there is a fare multiplier in effect, but passengers across the country complained they were gouged.
In Edmonton, a man using Uber to get from a wedding south of Edmonton to St. Albert, about 64km, was charged $1114.71. After he went public, Uber offered a partial refund. Other fares that made passengers fume included a $625.75 fee in Montreal.
Wait times among riders asked by CTV News varied between a few seconds and as long as two hours during the busiest party night of the year. The taxi industry has said it can’t keep up with demand with current service levels.
The Vancouver Taxi Association requested 198 temporary licences that would last until March 9. Instead, the provincial taxi watchdog, the Passenger Transportation Board, chose to approve only 58, and only until Jan. 8.
Bauer says that wasn’t enough. She says she’ll ask for 198 more licenses.
“We need more taxis,” Bauer said. “[The 58 temporary cabs] helped a little bit, but we definitely need more taxis out there, so we’re putting an application in again and we’re going to fight hard on this one to get the taxis on the road.”
Cab fares in B.C. are regulated by the Passenger Transportation Board, at $3.20 for the first 54 meters and $0.10 for each additional 54 meters, or $0.10 for each 10.95 seconds, no matter what the demand.
“We have to make it fair for the driver and we have to make it fair for the consumer,” Bauer said. “So for an example, someone going from here to Surrey on New Year’s Eve in a taxi -- depending on how far in Surrey -- could have been about $85. So if they were doing what Uber is doing, they would have paid about $1,000.”
There’s some question whether surge pricing even works to bring out more drivers. A study by the Washington Post suggested that surge pricing succeeds to move drivers to the area of demand, but not to get more drivers on the road. Part of the reason may be that prices change so quickly, the prices may drop by the time new drivers arrive.
Chanel Planta and Sarah Tantay told CTV News they waited for two hours for a taxi on New Year’s Eve.
“It was busy, so very busy,” said Planta. “We were going to a friends house and we had to wait long, long, long. We need more taxis here.”
When the additional licenses were approved last month, city Councilor Geoff Meggs described them as “a Band-Aid solution” to the city’s taxi shortage.
“For the long haul, I think at some point we’re going to have to come to grips with the huge demand for additional service, no matter how it’s delivered,” Meggs said at the time.
B.C.’s Transportation Minister has said that Uber will eventually come to B.C., but he has said little about deadlines or whether the service would be regulated.
Bauer said additional taxis on the roads would improve the availability of cabs during peak times like New Year’s Eve, and ensure that riders would get a reasonable price.
Given the choice between waiting for two hours for a cab or paying more than $1,000 to get home, Planta and Tantay said they’d prefer to wait.