Vancouver delays Uber, new cabs for six months
Vancouver city council voted to keep ride-sharing apps like Uber at bay for at least six months while they research the impact that the new technology could have on the taxi industry.
That was despite a plea from the $17-billion San Francisco tech giant to allow new technology to compete with the city’s cab monopoly – a move that could make hailing a cab cheaper and easier for consumers.
“This is an opportunity to embrace all the benefits of ride sharing. You risk losing that opportunity. If you leave it to the big four taxi companies, frankly they haven’t innovated in decades,” said Uber spokesman Chris Schafer.
Schafer’s pitch to council was watched by two dozen cab operators, wary of the impact that competition with Uber could have on their fares, or on the value of their taxi licences.
Licences are granted by the provincial government for a low price but their limited supply means they trade for upwards of $800,000 – the highest price in Canada. In other cities the value of those licences has dropped after the introduction of ride-sharing.
“How will we survive? We are very afraid of Uber. Don’t let what has happened in so many cities around the world happen here,” said Robbie Dhillon of the Vancouver Taxi Association.
Another cab company pointed out that Uber had clashed with regulators in Toronto and Ottawa, where it launched a service today.
The main question: whether drivers signed up by the tech company had passed the same criminal record checks that a taxi driver is required to.
“Does a third party company do a proper background check? I don’t think so,” said Carolyn Bauer of Yellow Cab.
Uber had already rolled out its service in Vancouver in 2012, but was sent packing by provincial regulators who demanded that the company charge a minimum of $75 a ride.
“There’s only ever been one product that we’ve rolled back in one city around the entire world and that’s Vancouver,” Schafer said.
He said the company wants to obey the rules, but under the province’s harsh regulatory environment it is almost impossible to get a licence. The reason, said Schafer, is because during regulatory hearings other taxi companies are allowed to oppose their application. Under the rules the Passenger Transportation Board is forced to give strong weight to that opposition.
“Imagine if Tim Horton’s would have to get Starbucks approval to enter. It’s ludicrous. This makes it very challenging for competition to ever enter the market in B.C.” Schafer said.
The move to delay any new taxi licences would also deny a group of suburban taxis from operating on weekends, and pose problems for new accessible cabs for people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities wait an hour or more for a taxi,” Jill Weiss told city council. “This is an urgent situation.”
The group of suburban cabs has already been granted licences by the province, but they do not generate revenue without Vancouver city’s approval. The group has threatened to sue the city if they are not allowed to get on the road quickly.