Anything (except the status quo) goes
Do you want to know how much I hate paying for taxi fares in the Lower Mainland? Imagine partying so hard in Coquitlam that it’s past 2 am and Translink services are offline. There are no cars available for you either, so you’ll be forced to spend at least 30 minutes hailing a ride from a cab. When you finally get back home to the North Shore, you can kiss $65 goodbye for the entire trip. Sound familiar? Oh that’s right, most of us have gone through similar situations.
Considering the frustration of expensive and inefficient taxi services, it’s no surprise that petitions aiming to bring Uber to BC gain more support every year. Sure, this ride-sharing program can potentially upset the taxi monopoly, and those cab companies will most certainly start a turf war with Uber when their profits are on the line. But let’s face it, the more transportation options we have, the less money Vancouver’s Yellow Cab Co. and Translink’s gravy train can take out of our pockets.
Yes, Uber has its fair share of controversies lately, what with the sexual harassment allegations made by Susan Fowler and other employees. Not to mention evading regulations through stolen technology (aka Greyball) by denying passengers that are identified as transportation regulators. Then there was price surging at the JFK airport during a taxi strike, using the protest of Trump’s travel ban to maximize profits. It doesn’t help either that Uber president Jeff Jones had to step down after six months being on the job. Uber’s PR crisis was so serious that the #DeleteUber trend on Twitter nearly became a dire threat to the company.
Still, backlashes from Uber’s internal strife and Vancouver’s Taxi Association don’t make the ride-sharing services any less desirable in Vancouver. In fact, the BC Liberals made a campaign that includes promises of bringing in Uber if they’re re-elected this May, and the news has been met with excitement from citizens in the Lower Mainland who are tired of the current unreliable transport options. So, how will Uber really make an impact in our city?
Currently, due to restrictions and limitations on taxi licenses being approved, there aren’t enough taxi drivers. This has led to unreasonably long wait times, drivers refusing to pick up passengers who are headed outside the area they want to drive and frustrated would-be passengers who have no other options. Suddenly, Uber shows up out of the blue, and anybody who can drive a car can participate in the sharing economy. As passengers, we may be paying cheaper fares to Uber, but at the end of the day, it’s an American company that profits the most over our local economy.
If we consider how much the provincial government will have to spend, it’s better to go for broke by investing in a ride-sharing program we desperately need for our sharing economy. Even if Uber can’t be approved in Vancouver, the province of BC will need to fork over $1 million to upgrade the taxi industry through an app that puts cab companies on par, technologically, with Uber and Lyft. On top of that, ICBC will need at least $3.5 million to install taxis with “crash-avoidance” technology at no charge, while at the same time make claims processes and insurance more convenient and “affordable.” We’re spending money like a world-class city, yet our system isn’t even on par with smaller cities like Edmonton?
With great innovation comes inherent risks. There would be financial and political setbacks from creating our unique version of Uber in Vancouver, just like when our Compass system faced constant delays for implementation. However, if we can use the opportunity to learn from the mistakes from Uber and Translink’s HR crises, Vancouver can finally stop being the laughing stock of the transportation industry.
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