On March 10, Mohan Kang, president of the B.C. Taxi Association, appeared before Victoria council, appealing for them to block the arrival of the ride-sharing company, Uber to the city.
His appearance followed statements made by Mayor Lisa Helps in February, where she said she was in favour of the concept of Uber. She said it was an example of the “surplus capacity” of an automobile that’s not used all the time, and can be used to produce income for the car’s owner.
But according to Kang, Uber is a multi-billion dollar company (estimates range from $17 to $70 billion) whose record of scofflaw behaviour should define it as less than an ideal corporate citizen.
Uber’s first foray into B.C. came in 2012 when it set up operations in Vancouver. That move was stopped by then Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Mary Polak, who advised Uber drivers they would be required to operate under the same rules as limousine companies and would be required to charge a minimum hourly rate of $75. The move, and threatened fines for flouting the regulation, shut down Uber operations.
In 2014, however, Uber reappeared in B.C. by posting jobs for various positions in Vancouver. The post read, “We won’t stop until all of Vancouver is riding Uber.” That foray back into B.C. was quickly thwarted when the government threatened the company with hefty fines.
Kang said it’s that persistent and disrespectful business approach that should be concerning to British Columbians. He said Uber feels itself to be above the law and that its past record of moving into a series of cities in North America without first gaining approval should be indicative of an approach that the people of B.C. should reject.
“Are we living in a society where the rules don’t mean anything?” said Kang. “This is a company with billions of dollars at its disposal who can and have defended the people who are fined and who can fight in court to get whatever they want. They have deep pockets and it’s not a level playing field for the cab companies.”
He pointed out that cab drivers are required to carry a class four license, pass criminal record checks, have their cars regularly inspected, carry adequate insurance for the protection of their passengers, and generally work to be a positive part of the community.
Kang pointed to the cab drivers participation in the amber alert program as an example of how they are a part of the community. Many cab drivers are trained as first responders and have developed strong relationships with the police.
Kang also told council that Uber is guilty of “cherry picking” only a certain part of the riding public. He said that Uber only takes fares from people who have pre-approved credit card accounts.
“If Uber were to put cabs out of business, what does that do to the people who can’t get credit cards, or who rely on coupons and vouchers?” said Kang, adding cab companies invest in accessible vehicles that cost much more to put on the road than regular cabs and Uber does not provide that service.
Despite the concerns of the taxi association, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said last January that he felt it was a matter of “when, not if, ridesharing will be prevalent in B.C.” Shortly thereafter B.C.’s Premier Christy Clark appointed Peter Fassbender, the minister responsible for TransLink, to begin discussions with municipalities and Uber about how to handle the ride-sharing issue.
According to Fassbender, the government is going to take its time studying the issue and no legislation will be ready for this government session.