“What do you mean you don’t have Uber?”

Ride Sharing in Vancouver

If you’ve recently traveled outside of British Columbia to a major North American city, you’ll have have likely been in a city that allows and regulates ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Or, put differently: Vancouver is the ONLY major city in North America without Uber or Lyft. For a city that considers itself world-class, this is a glaring weakness.

If you already don’t much care for politics, the story of why British Columbia won’t regulate ride-sharing companies will not change your mind. For this boringly-enraging tale features two of the most odorous facets of politics: political gridlock and special interests.

When questioned in Parliament, on why Premier Horgan was breaking a campaign promise to pass ride-sharing legislation, the Premier made it abundantly clear it wasn’t the current government’s fault that ride-sharing legislation would be delayed, again, for another review.

“When we came to government in the middle of the summer, we were committed to bringing in ride-sharing, on the assumption that they had done something in five years. As it turned out, they hadn’t.”

Horgan’s “I know you are, but what am I?” argument does hold some water. The Liberals under Christy Clark had half a decade with a majority-mandate to pass ride-sharing legislation; yet the progress seemingly only amounted to a campaign promise to it being passed it by December 2017.

Both current and former governments have evidently run into the same impermeable wall: the taxi lobby. For those who aren’t 100% clear on what a lobby is, allow me to demonstrate that I did complete a B.A in Political-Science:

A lobby is a registered special interest group that seeks to influence lawmakers to pass legislation favourable to their cause; or conversely, not to pass unfavourable ones.

In this case, the lobby is the Vancouver Taxi Association, which “exists to promote & safeguard the interest of the taxi industry in British Columbia”. A group which, in 2014, donated $53,000 to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s campaign.

Needless to say, it’s not in the immediate “interest of the taxi industry” to allow the regulation of ride-sharing. And without competition, the taxi industry in Vancouver has little incentive to offer a good service.

Anecdotally, I think taxis have upped their game recently with respect to cleanliness and overall service. Moreover, there are some legitimate free taxi apps whose interfaces and quality is similar to existing ride-sharing companies’. Booking a cab with the The Black Top Cabs App, and then tracking its progress, is more or less as easy and similar as using Uber’s app.

For example, there is the Black Top Cabs App, which was created November 4th, 2014.This is conspicuously close to the date that @Uber_Van’s tweeted this out in a reply:

“we’re working hard to bring Uber back to Vancouver! keep tuned to our Twitter feed for sure #VancUBER

All this to say: just the threat of competition can create improvements in a market — imagine what real competition might bring.

So, taxi companies are greasing the wheel, while the current and previous governments hurl verbal stones of ineptitude at each other, while British Columbians continue to be behind the rest of the continent, dealing with the light scorn of out-of-town visitors when they say “What do you mean you don’t have Uber?”

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