COLUMN: Ontario ride-hailing experience has implications for Surrey

Ride-hailing is now operating in B.C., in a lightning-quick response to the Passenger Transportation Board’s approval Jan. 23 of applications by ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft. The next day, both companies were already offering rides in a number of areas of Vancouver.

The two companies have been granted permission to operate across the Lower Mainland and in Whistler. Pick-ups and drop-offs were also available in parts of Surrey as of 8 a.m. Friday.

Mayor Doug McCallum has claimed that Surrey residents do not want ride-hailing, but his opinion is not based on facts. Public opinion surveys show there is a strong demand for such a service here. McCallum has also stated that the city will not issue business licences to ride-hailing companies, but that will be unnecessary.

The region’s mayors are already working on a mobile regional business licence for the ride-hailing companies, which could be available as early as February. McCallum is opposed – but he is outnumbered.

The decisions by the PTB to approve Uber and Lyft (and deny the application of Kater, a ride-hailing company funded by the taxi industry) make for fascinating reading. They can be found at ptboard.bc.ca.

The board spent a lot of time digging into ride-hailing operations in other parts of Canada and its reference to Mississauga, Ont. is relevant to Surrey.

“In the City of Mississauga, approximately 10 million dispatched vehicle-for-hire trips (ride-hailing and taxi) were reported in 2017. The City reported that the 7.7 million increase in trips indicated that a new vehicle-for-hire market had emerged. Notably, the report concluded that TNS (ride-hailing) did not simply capture 15.3 per cent of the existing market share but rather it capitalized on a previously untapped market that before consisted of individuals walking, taking buses, and using personal vehicles,” the decision on Uber’s application stated.

This is exactly what will happen in Surrey. Mississauga, like Surrey, is the “second city” in the Toronto region and it also home to Pearson International Airport. Unlike Surrey, it is quite well-served by public transit – yet the number of overall trips skyrocketed after ride-hailing was introduced.

Taxi companies, who have fought Uber and Lyft tooth-and-nail, do have a point – their businesses could be significantly damaged by the competition. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. The industry must adapt to the changing circumstances and embrace change.

One of the first things that must happen is that taxis based anywhere in the Lower Mainland must be free to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere else. Vancouver taxi companies have resisted this – but it must happen, or those Vancouver-based companies will be out of business first.

Surrey residents who are often left waiting when they call for a taxi need to be able to get prompt service. Surrey residents who go to downtown Vancouver entertainment hot spots need to be able to get home with a taxi or ride-hailing service after SkyTrain shuts down.

There are political consequences to this decision, which is why McCallum has made threats about business licences. There are many taxi drivers and licence holders living in Surrey, and they have political clout. However, this is less likely to be a municipal challenge than a B.C. one.

The quick start of Uber and Lyft service is likely to cause Premier John Horgan to shelve any ideas of a 2020 election, if he was thinking along those lines. The six Surrey seats the NDP hold and the additional one in North Delta would be threatened by a shift in support away from NDP candidates.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

ColumnistSurrey

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