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

COMMUTER ALERT: Serious pedestrian crash closes Pacific Highway

Traffic along 176th Street, 4th to 8th Avenue, is blocked while Mounties continue to investigate.

Giants owner Ron Toigo to get BC Sports Hall of Fame W.A.C. Bennett Award

Head of Langley-based hockey team to be honoured at May induction gala

UPDATED: Touching note left on Langley veteran’s windshield

A veteran hopes the writers of a note know how much he was touched by their kind words. They do.

VIDEO: Young Langley boy uses his grief to help other kids suffering loss

Thursday Langley Hospice hosts its Paint the Town Blue campaign to spotlight child bereavement.

LETTER: Canada should not be selling weapons abroad

A Langley man is critical of Canada for selling arms that are being used to kill civilians.

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Protesters confront Environment Minister in B.C.

Protesters wanting more for killer whales confront Catherine McKenna

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Tubing, skating, light display part of new winter festival in Vancouver

Set to open Nov. 23, the six-week festival will take over Vancouver’s Concord Pacific Centre

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

B.C. firefighters rescue horse stuck in mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Regulatory confusion over ‘toxic’ stink near Abbotsford school

Officials sniffing out which regulators responsible for enforcing compliance at neighbouring property

Most Read