COLUMN: Ride-hailing is not a panacea, but it works

COLUMN: Ride-hailing is not a panacea, but it works

Surrey mayor should lobby for taxis to have better chance of competing, writes Frank Bucholtz

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum caused an uproar when he vowed to block ride-hailing companies from operating in Surrey by denying them business licences.

He made that promise in a speech to members of the Vancouver Taxi Association on Sept. 10. Interestingly, the remarks were made in Vancouver – not Surrey.

McCallum has voiced opposition to ride-hailing before, and it appears to be driven by politics. He certainly is not giving much thought to the actual needs of Surrey residents. Transit service in Surrey lags behind that available in many other parts of Metro Vancouver. It will be quite some time before the Surrey SkyTrain extension which he pushed for in the last election is operating. Bus service has expanded, but many areas of Surrey are still very poorly-served.

As for taxis, rides back to Surrey from Vancouver or other parts of the region are often hard to obtain from taxi drivers. Many simply refuse the fare, because they will have to return empty. This has been documented many times.

Ride-hailing is not a panacea, but it is a service that works well in virtually every other city in North America. It has been held back in Metro Vancouver and the rest of B.C. by provincial politics. The BC Liberals dithered on whether or not to give it the go-ahead. They left office with no decision made. When the NDP government took office more than two years ago, it too dithered until the Passenger Transportation Board finally ruled in August that it could go ahead. It did give taxi companies a monopoly on picking up cruise ship passengers – a significant boost.

The PTB also said drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft must have Class 4 drivers’ licences, which will significantly restrict the supply of ride-hailing vehicles on the road. The board did give ride-hailing companies the ability to operate region-wide, something that taxi companies are unable to do.

In this respect, McCallum’s opposition makes sense. It is very unfair to taxi drivers, who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy taxi licences (in itself one of the chief reasons taxi rates are so high), to not let them pick up return fares when they take passengers to other cities. In fact, the VTA which McCallum was speaking to is one of the chief lobbyists for this policy, as it benefits Vancouver taxi companies while punishing those based in other parts of the region.

One exception to the no-pickup rule seems to be at the Vancouver Airport. Cabs from various parts of the region do pick up fares there. However, the lineups are often horrendous.

The province has stated that, despite McCallum’s bluster, ride-hailing companies will be able to operate in Surrey. Thus residents who would like to see more transportation options available should be able to contact Uber and Lyft and other services when they begin operations later this year.

McCallum should concentrate on lobbying Transportation Minister Claire Trevena and NDP MLAs from this area, asking them to work towards allowing Surrey-based taxi companies to pick up fares in Vancouver and other parts of the region. That way, they will have a better chance of competing with the ride-hailing companies.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at