An all-party committee of B.C. MLAs is at work to put broken promises and blame behind them and work out a way to introduce smartphone-based ride-hailing service to the province.
The committee began three days of hearings in Vancouver Monday, hearing from a transportation consultant and B.C. taxi industry representatives who pleaded for a compromise to prevent “destructive competition” from online operators.
Vancouver Taxi Association representative Carolyn Bauer told MLAs the taxi industry wants to embrace new technology, and recognizes the problems people face getting a ride around Metro Vancouver.
“We’re the ones that are being screamed at when people can’t get service,” Bauer said.
The Vancouver Taxi Association is working on a common smartphone app being developed by a B.C. company called Kater that would provide one-stop shopping for people looking for a taxi or ride-hailing service. Bauer said it would offer the nearest driver if all of the licensed taxis in Vancouver or another municipality are busy.
Transportation consultant Benn Proctor told the committee the taxi industry’s claim that its drivers make a living wage under the current system is not supported by his research.
On Friday or Saturday nights in Vancouver, drivers have to bid $180 to $200 to drive a licensed taxi, and return the taxi with a full gas tank, Proctor said. That means they need to make more than $400 during a 12-hour shift in order to earn minimum wage, and they can’t take longer trips without a fare on the way back.
Proctor said Calgary offers a good example of taxis working with ride-hailing services, with 1.4 million additional rides provided by Uber and only a slight decrease in taxi rides during the same period.
Bauer disputed that, saying many Calgary taxi drivers have parked their cars, unable to make enough to cover expenses as the number of Uber drivers grew from 3,500 to 5,000.
Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux said as a wheelchair user, she gets good service from established taxi companies. She asked for assurances that a shift to ride hailing would maintain enough accessible vehicles for disabled people.
Mohan Singh Kang of the B.C. Taxi Association said taxi companies maintain vehicles for disabled people, even in communities such as Williams Lake where there may be 10 or fewer calls per week from the service.
The committee was proposed by B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who has repeatedly pushed for B.C. to join most large cities in North America to allow Uber, Lyft and other services to supplement taxi service.
Weaver disputed Bauer’s suggestion that ride-hailing services are “destructive,” saying there is no city in the world that has lost its taxi industry with the addition of competition.
The B.C. NDP matched the B.C. Liberal election promise to introduce ride-hailing by the end of 2017, but NDP Transportation Minister Claire Trevena retreated and ordered a review of the taxi industry first. Trevena said the previous government did not make enough progress on creating licensing and vehicle insurance for ride-hailing drivers, one of the complaints of taxi services that want similar rules for competing services.