Uber Canada head says current rules hurt consumers, protect taxi monopoly
General manager of Uber Canada says his company is ready and willing to accept government regulation
When it comes to extolling the virtues of his controversial company, Uber Canada general manager Ian Black isn't shy.
"Uber has solved transportation," Black said in an interview with CBC News Network's The Exchange.
Black attributes Uber's explosive growth in Canada and around the world to a release of pent-up frustration by transportation users.
"People were frustrated with long wait times, people were frustrated with low reliability, and generally didn't trust the system," said Black.
"I think by making an easy-to-use app that anyone can access, we've solved that problem and opened up transportation to whole new audiences that weren't using it before."
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Black suggested that there's plenty of room for the traditional taxi industry to co-exist alongside ride-hailing services like Uber and rival Lyft.
"We can have car-sharing, we can have ride-sharing, we can have taxis, public transportation," said Black. "All of those things work together to make the transportation fabric even richer in cities."
'Open to regulation'
Uber looks different across Canada's three largest cities. In Toronto, Uber was recently granted a license to dispatch traditional taxis, but the controversial UberX service (which connects passengers with drivers using their own personal vehicles) operates illegally, according to the city.
Montreal has taken a particularly hard stance on UberX, seizing vehicles from drivers. UberX doesn't operate in Vancouver, but B.C. Transportation Minister Todd stone recently said the arrival of Uber in B.C. is inevitable.
Black said UberX is ready for regulation by Canadian municipalities.
"We're really open to regulation on ride-sharing," said Black. "Ride-sharing can exist very well within a regulated framework, and we're actually excited about that because then we can get on to the business of continuing to innovate, introduce new products, and hopefully continue to improve transportation in Canadian cities."
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Uber's absence from the Vancouver market is "hard to watch," said Black, adding that Vancouver is the largest city in North America without ride-hailing services.
"We've had over 100,000 people in Vancouver download the Uber app, which is a clear signal to us that people in Vancouver need more transportation options," said Black. "But unfortunately there's a set of regulations right now which really favour the taxi industry and protect a traditional monopoly."
Black said Uber hopes to launch in Vancouver this year after "working closely with the government."
He's also optimistic about Uber's future in Montreal, where Mayor Denis Coderre has come out strongly against UberX.
"We look at Montreal, we have several hundred thousand people who use the app in that city. We have thousands of drivers. This is improving transportation and making it safer," said Black.
"So, as more people use the product, as more people understand that, I think it's easier to come to a compromise that says, 'we can create a regulated framework for this,' and we're hopeful the same will happen in Quebec as well."
Uber's move into Canadian cities has been met with protests by taxi drivers, who say they are forced to abide by more costly licensing and rules of operation, while Uber drivers undercut them on fares.
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When asked about Uber's tendency to flout municipal transportation regulations, Black suggested that cities need to catch up to the modern world.
"In this word where technology exists... it makes the old laws look very old-fashioned, and really protects a system that no longer makes sense," said Black, adding that "where our model doesn't fit with old regulations, we certainly have work to do with governments to update those, but updating them in a way that protects public safety, but also puts the needs of consumers and drivers first."
Black acknowledged that Uber has been "very disruptive" for taxi drivers, but suggested their fears may be unfounded.
"The taxi industry in San Francisco hasn't disappeared," said Black. "It's roughly the same size as it was five years ago when Uber first came into the market... there will always be people who want to step out on the street and flag a taxi, and taxis are specifically designed for that purpose and will continue to serve it."
Municipal regulations for Uber, said Black, could also allow traditional taxi companies to update their business model.
"Perhaps Beck Taxi wants to also be a ride-sharing player," said Black. "We've seen that happen in some markets where old taxi companies adapt to the new model, and hopefully in the process improve the level of service that gets offered to customers."