The first City Conversation of the New Year featured Peter Ladner of Business in Vancouver and Mohan Kang of the BC Taxi Association. It was sparked by the recent attempt of Uber to set up in Vancouver, which was quickly squashed. However, Uber is not the only actor who wants to see something change in mobility provision here. Indeed many who favour change hope that there will be a better alternative to Uber. There was someone video recording the meeting – and taking photos – but I cannot see where on the SFU website these meetings get archived. Perhaps you can help me.
Peter Ladner opened by saying he was not an expert in the field but of course he has editorialised about it. He opened by talking about a recent trip to Grouse Mountain where he saw an empty bus, three idle cars2go and a sign for car sharing. He said that the waste of car seats in the line up of cars is absurd and could be easy to deal with through new technology. He cited the new Helsinki app, Moovel (Daimler) and Park Together as examples. Uber is “just the most prominent and the most ugly – ruthless, aggressive and unethical.” Uber is aiming for a monopoly and will also take aim at transit. “Do we need protection through regulation?” he asked. He cited examples like Hitch Planet and Airbnb to show how they have managed to build trust. He thought that increasing the use of ride sharing would have community benefits through better mobility access and “microjobs”. On the other hand with Uber there could be a race to the bottom.
Mohan Kang explained that his association is a non profit that represents the 140 taxi companies that serve BC but not the four that serve downtown Vancouver. [Black Top, McClures, Vancouver and Yellow] Uber represents a good idea but they have gone the wrong way about it. Taxis are not the only service that is regulated. He cited doctors and dentists as an example of a service that needs regulation, and deals effectively to restrain unregistered practitioners. Uber has no requirements of drivers other than a post 2004 four door car and a driver’s license. Taxi drivers must have training, a special license, much more insurance than other drivers (at a cost of $20,000 a year) and pass a course at the Justice Institute. They are also subject to a criminal record check before they can get a chauffeur’s license and must have their taxi inspected every six months. A new accessible van costs $45,000 and can only be operated as a taxi for six years before it is replaced. He said the industry is effectively subsidizing accessible taxis. Uber will not provide services to those with disabilities, without cell phones and credit cards and will not take cash or taxi savers. “If we don’t need regulation for taxis, then we don’t need it for day cares – or building construction.” Regulation is necessary to protect the public. Taxis by their constant presence on the street save lives and can report incidents to the police as they happen. BCTA has been part of the Amber Alert system for ten years.
The first participant said that she would not feel comfortable getting into a stranger’s car, but felt safe in a taxi. The second said that he had used Uber in Los Angeles for seven rides and felt that the system was safe and convenient. He compared their prompt and efficient service with a recent experience in Vancouver when a taxi took 25 minutes to arrive – and showed him 200 ride requests waiting on the system. This was, of course, a Friday evening.
I was the third participant and rehearsed some of what I have been writing on this blog on this topic. Mr Kang responded to the discussion by stating that the BCTA has never contributed to any political party. He also said that the Passenger Transport Board does not show any favour to the industry and has issued additional licenses in recent years ( e.g. Garden City cabs in Richmond). He was asked are more cabs desirable? Is the industry over regulated? Could taxi fares come down? He responded that the fares are determined by the Passenger Transportation Board [using a cost of service index]. “Prices cannot be lowered”. Recent changes permit some suburban cabs to pick up in downtown Vancouver on Friday and Saturday night. But at 02:00 on Saturday (when the bars close) the peak in demand for cabs cannot be met economically by adding more taxi licences – as the service is not needed at other times. Surge Pricing on Uber was said to deal with this problem by encouraging more cars to come into the market at that time. Regulations currently forbid suburban taxis that have come into Vancouver from picking up, and have to return to their home municipality empty.
Hilary Hennegar of Modo said that the taxi industry is a public service which has been important to supplement accessible services after HandyDART was cut. She felt that there were better examples than Uber such as Seoul, South Korea that has booted Uber and set up their own system. She thought that a co-operative approach was possible rather than a predatory one. Vancouver should develop its own sharing economy.
Benn Proctor has produced his Masters’ Thesis which is an unbeatable source of information on “Assessing and Reforming Vancouver’s Taxi Regulations”. It was observed that each car share takes ten cars off the road: car share reduces car ownership.
There were concerns over the use of the data collected by Uber which could create issues over privacy. Boston MA is using Uber data to study trip making.
Michael Geller stated that “the taxi system is broken”. He thought the value of taxi licenses on the secondary market reason enough for intervention. While the BCTA may not make political donations, taxi company proprietors (i.e. license owners) are very generous to all candidates. [As a reality check I can state authoritatively that no taxi company offered me any money when I was a candidate. Perhaps that is just an indication of how realistic taxi operators were about my chances of election. ] We are moving to a society where young people do not have driver’s licenses let alone own cars. We have to have more choices, and the taxi industry must address their ridiculous 4pm shift change. The more we can reduce the need to own a car the better we will do.
Peter Ladner pointed to the mytaxi app and suggested that the automobile industry is ‘waking up’ to the reality of lower car ownership.
Michael Anderson stated that this meeting had been “City Conversations at its best”.
Somebody sitting near me was talking to the person next to him, before the meeting began, about shared ride vans in Africa. I had heard about these but this morning someone tweeted the link to a piece on Next City on the tro-tro in Accra, Ghana. This includes commentary from Uber
The Vancouver Sun reports that the additional weekend taxis so far authorised have made no difference but even so the four Vancouver companies have managed to put them on hold – again – and seem likely to continue to block any efforts to reduce waiting times on Friday and Saturday nights.
Read Michael Geller’s take on this meeting in the Vancouver Courier
February 4 – some more data on the quality of taxi service in Vancouver