B.C. cities split on steering future to Uber or reformed taxis

Communities 'held hostage' and 'begging for change' from new transportation technology, UBCM hears

Uber Canada public policy manager Michael van Hemmen

Municipal delegates grappled with whether to support existing taxi companies and their efforts to modernize or ride-matching juggernaut Uber in a forum on the issue at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Tuesday.

The debate pitched those who fear the transportation app will destroy taxi industry jobs and suck away profits versus those who argued its technology better serves passengers who too often are left without usable on-demand transportation.

Maple Ridge Coun. Gordy Robson, a former taxi company businessman himself, said taxi firms don’t care how effectively local residents are served.

“In our community, we’re being held hostage,” he said, adding people can’t get a cab late at night or early in the morning.

“They don’t come out. Under the Uber system, it does,” Robson said. “It’s affecting our restaurants, it’s affecting our bars and it’s putting our kids at risk. And for God’s sake, somebody should do something.”

Robson spoke after Saanich Coun. Fred Haynes argued there’s little difference in the degree of risk to the community between under-regulated Uber drivers and unregulated dental or medical practitioners.

“I don’t think there should be ride sharing until we fully understand those risks,” said Haynes, who portrayed Uber as the bringer of a Bladerunner-like dystopic future.

Langley Township Coun. Angie Quaale took issue with that and said her community is “begging” for change.

“It’s not 1982 when Bladerunner was made,” Quaale said. “I’m not sure when this conversation changed to be referring to Uber and ride sharing as disruptive technology, instead of innovative technology.”

Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said he doubts municipalities that want to defend existing taxi service can simply draw a line in the sand and keep Uber out indefinitely, adding the best option is to encourage the existing taxi industry to innovate.

He said he remains concerned about the ride-matching app’s use of surge pricing that gives users no consistency in what they pay for a ride and whether Uber drivers will accommodate disabled passengers.

While the province just released findings from an initial round of consultation on potential ride-sharing reform, Meggs said it has so far left a “policy vacuum” and given little sign of how it intends to proceed.

“We’re paralyzed right at the moment because the province doesn’t have a policy framework that would answer any of these questions in an effective way.”

The forum also heard from two taxi industry representatives, who touted efforts to roll out an e-cab app that also allows passengers to book from their phones.

They also highlighted concerns under the Uber model from the adequacy of insurance to whether drivers are adequately vetted for safety – there have been high-profile allegations of sex assaults involving Uber drivers.

Michael van Hemmen, Uber Canada’s public policy manager, said after one recent “unfortunate” incident in Toronto the company knew precisely which driver was involved because customer and driver are matched by the technology.

He said there’s no such assurance when someone is drunk, uses a taxi, but may not even remember after an incident which taxi company they used, let alone the driver.

Fernie Coun. Jon Levesque said he’s trying to weigh the merits of Uber, and whether it could offer a much-needed transportation option for small rural areas, where taxi service may be very limited or non-existant. He noted Fernie is on the verge of losing its local shuttle to and from the ski hill.

Meggs said the Uber debate has been unfortunately dominated by complaints of lack of cabs in downtown Vancouver after the bars close and Levesque’s concern highlighted the “burning problem” of insufficient public transit in rural B.C. and the potential for car-sharing to fill the gap.

He said the most obvious problem area is the Highway of Tears in northern B.C., where the government has moved to launch a basic bus service in response to the long-running series of murders of young women hitchhiking there.

Communities Minister Peter Fassbender, who is leading the government review of ride-sharing, noted the dynamic in an area like Metro Vancouver is far different from communities like Golden or Castlegar, where “you’ve got one company with two cars.”

Just Posted

Victoria city staff start from square one on Crystal Pool project

Victoria staff need direction on revised plans for the Crystal Pool and Wellness Project

‘Panda’ Goodlife runner searches for his head

Facebook post for help leads to ‘unconfirmed panda head sightings’

Victoria’s 2020 Capital City Comic Con to feature a special Star Trek guest

Cherry Bomb Toys announced tickets for the event will go on sale on Friday

For Central Saanich couple, fight against MS is a matter of family

Altenkirks sell greeting cards and wooden bowls to raise money for MS Society

Victoria feels the pinch at the pump as gas prices jump 18 cents

Gas up to 157.9 cents per litre at some stations

WATCH: Greater Victoria’s top stories of the day

A round-up of the day’s top stories

POLL: Do you think the day of the federal election should be a statutory holiday?

Increasing voter turnout has long been a goal of officials across the… Continue reading

Potent power play paces Canucks to 5-1 win over Detroit

Miller nets a pair as Vancouver wins third straight

UPDATE: British couple vacationing in Vancouver detained in U.S. after crossing border

CBP claims individuals were denied travel authorization, crossing was deliberate

After losing two baby boys, B.C. parents hope to cut through the taboo of infant death

Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in B.C.

Cheating husband sues mistress for gifted ring after wife learns about affair

The husband gave his mistress $1,000 to buy herself a ring in December 2017

B.C. massage therapist reprimanded, fined for exposing patients’ breasts

Registered massage therapist admits professional misconduct

B.C. boosts legal aid funding in new payment contract

‘Duty counsel’ service restored in some communities, David Eby says

VIDEO: Bear spies on cyclists riding by on Campbell River street

Riders seem unaware the bruin is mere feet away on the side of the road

Most Read