Uber, taxi industry pitch different solutions to cab shortage at all-party meeting
Representatives from the taxi industry and Uber offered dueling visions for how to solve Metro Vancouver's cab shortage before an all-party committee of the B.C. legislature Monday, including a new “one-app” system for ordering rides.
The Vancouver Taxi Association addressed the group of NDP, Green and Liberal MLAs first, pitching an all-in-one app that would connect customers with every cab company available in their area. Spokesperson Carolyn Bauer said the supply issue would be addressed through licence-splitting, which would increase the number of taxis on the roads.
"We know that the needs of the public are not being met," Bauer told the committee. "Frequently, people are waiting far too long for taxi service, and we need improved access and payment systems based on the latest and best technologies to provide the public with the taxi service it rightfully is demanding and deserves."
The proposed app, which would be developed by a third-party company without public funding, would be available province-wide and operate as a compliment to the current taxi dispatch system, according to the association.
But it’s unclear how long it would take to develop, and Bauer acknowledged passengers are having difficulty accessing cab service in the meantime. Still, she urged the government not to flood the market with drivers from Uber and similar ride-hailing companies.
Beyond its usual arguments about unfair competition, the Vancouver Taxi Association pointed to an article about increased traffic gridlock in New York City and cautioned that Uber and Lyft might actually make Metro Vancouver’s road congestion even worse.
"There is no public interest in having an oversupply of [rides], which will occur in an unregulated market," Bauer cautioned. "Not only will that cause traffic disruption, it will also lead to destructive competition between taxi providers where it is difficult if not impossible for anyone in the industry to make a reasonable living."
But Andrew Weaver, who proposed the all-party committee, was less than impressed by the app pitch.
"Fundamentally it goes against everything I believe in, which is the need for competition in the marketplace," Weaver said following Bauer's presentation.
"While I think it's innovative, I'll tell you up front I can't support this one-size-fits-all solution. If I want to take Black Top or Yellow Cab, I choose that. If there's a one-size app, it knocks the competition out."
The idea that the market doesn’t have room for both taxis and ride-hailing apps was also challenged by Uber’s representative, Michael van Hemmen.
Van Hemmen, the company’s public policy manager for Western Canada, argued the taxi industry’s concerns are overblown, and tried to portray his company’s service as part of a wider push away from Metro Vancouverites’ reliance on personal vehicles.
"In every city across North America where Uber exists, taxis still exist. In fact, one taxi company in Toronto said that they're having their best year ever," he told CTV News.
"We view our primary competition as a personal automobile. We want to find ways that you will choose not to drive yourself, but instead choose Uber and public transit, bike sharing and car sharing, and other sustainable alternatives."
That framing might play well to voters on the South Coast, but it clashes with a study published last year that suggests ride-hailing services actually put more vehicles on the road. The researchers estimated that up to 61 per cent of ride-hailing trips in major U.S. cities would have been made by walking, biking or transit if the apps weren't available.
There's little question that something needs to change, however. Van Hemmen pointed to Vancouver's recent hectic holiday season, which saw many people face long waits to get home from parties, as proof that a new approach is overdue.
"Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer – they didn't have those same problems this holiday season because they were able to have a flexible alternative like ride-sharing and Uber available to them," he said.
And unlike the taxi industry’s proposed app, Uber said its service is already primed to launch.
“We’re ready to go as soon as possible, but it’s really up to the politicians to make the decision about when that will happen,” Van Hemmen said.
The all-party committee is continuing to meet over the next two days, and there's no indication the province will be making a decision on ride-hailing any time soon. Even though the government has been studying the services for years, the NDP, which previously promised to introduce Uber by the end of 2017, has suggested it won't be introducing new legislation on ride-hailing until this fall at the earliest.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Ben Miljure and Shannon Paterson