Ride hailing has now set up shop in B.C. and depending on how you look at it, this development is either a tremendous breakthrough or the worst thing to come along in quite a while.
The traditional taxi situation has clearly failed riders. It is an antiquated, inefficient and unreliable system hamstrung by an industry-wide refusal to modernize and keep its focus on serving customers rather than protecting turf.
Stories abound of travellers waiting forever for a taxi to get out of YVR, or people stranded in downtown Vancouver late at night, unable to find a taxi home.
So when ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft came knocking, the taxi industry was unable to draw on much public support or sympathy to keep these companies at bay.
It was perhaps inevitable that the NDP government (it would have made no difference if the BC Liberals were in power) bowed to growing public pressure and gave ride hailing the green light.
Make no mistake - ride hailing is not the kind of industry near and dear to the NDP’s political DNA. It desires minimal regulation in an open market and detests unionization.
Its typical employee works part-time for low wages, hardly the kind of employment scenario advocated by the NDP.
Nevertheless, ride hailing is popular with the travelling public and that makes it difficult for any government to keep it at bay forever. Still, signs of trouble associated with ride hailing have emerged in recent months and it will be interesting to see if they are repeated here.
Recent U.S. studies on the impact of ride-hailing services have made some disturbing findings.
For example, a study by the Massachusetts public utility that greenhouse emissions had spiked an alarming amount due to ride hailing. Ride hailing means more cars on the road that are being driven for longer periods.
More vehicles also mean greater congestion on roads. A study in San Francisco found congestion from 2010 to 2016 had increased 62% and attributed half of that increase to a steady rise in ride-hailing operations.
Several studies point to less use of public transportation with the increase in ride hailing. That could make it harder to make a proper business model for future, expensive taxpayer investments in transportation projects.
Uber drivers, upset about poor working conditions and low wages, staged one-day strikes several U.S. cities last year. In addition, more than 3,000 Uber passengers reported being sexually assaulted last year.
As ride hailing takes hold to a greater degree in Metro Vancouver, it will be vitally important to collect as much data as possible on its impact in many areas, both positive and negative. Depending on what is found, municipal governments as well as the provincial government may have to step in and drastically change the rules.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.