It’s something Jim Bell has been fearing for months.
But now, the provincial government will be ushering in new rules to allow ride-matching services such as Uber to enter the market by the end of the year.
“I’m very disappointed in our B.C. government. I feel they’ve turned their back on local business,” said Bell, general manager of Victoria Taxi, which operates 60 taxis in the city.
For several months, the province has been evaluating policy options to satisfy public demand for ride-matching services, but without triggering catastrophic damage to the incumbent taxi companies.
Earlier this week, the province announced a number of new regulations to break the taxi industry monopoly, while also promising significant reforms and financial support to help make the transition, including $1 million to finance companies’ move towards a consistent ride-hailing app for shared dispatch of taxis across B.C., allowing riders to hail and pay via smartphone.
Taxis will continue to have exclusive rights to street hailing and pickups from cab stands, and there would no longer be a cap on licences, should a business choose to add more vehicles to its fleet.
But the incoming changes are a total reversal of current government policy, said Bell, adding the hardest hit will be the drivers themselves. While Uber is allowed to inflate rates during peak hours and offer discounts at other times, taxi drivers don’t have the same luxury.
“The biggest hit I see is on the drivers themselves. His peak earning hours are going to be absolutely diluted and destroyed by undercutting predatory pricing. He’s going to say I can’t afford to stay a cab driver anymore, I can’t afford to stay in the industry,” said Bell.
“Drivers simply aren’t going to be making enough money. These guys have dedicated their life, have invested money … and the government simply turned its back, saying ‘Come on in, Uber’.”
Bell also expressed concerns about insurance, standards for licencing, and added congestion during the tourism season, and at the B.C. Ferries and airport terminals, with Uber drivers driving around waiting for fares.
Communities Minister Peter Fassbender also indicated the pending legislation will eliminate many of the existing rules that have constrained taxi companies for years, including allowing taxis to pick up customers and drop them off anywhere. But Bell said smaller communities, such as the West Shore, could end up being underserved with taxis travelling downtown to pick up customers instead.
Surinder Kang, operations manager of Victoria-based Yellow Cab, said hundreds of families will be affected by the new rules.
“It’s the nail in the coffin for the taxi industry,” said Kang. “If they want to bring ride sharing, it shouldn’t be separate from the taxi industry.”
Both taxi and ride-share drivers will have to be 19 years old, pass criminal record checks, pass a driver safety record check, and vehicles will have to pass regular inspections. Uber and other ride-sharing drivers will have to have the same level of insurance, and taxi drivers will no longer need a Class 4 driver’s licence, but the same Class 5 licence as ride-share drivers.
The new rules could allow Uber to enter the market by December.
— With files from Jeff Nagel and Travis Paterson