British Columbia

Even taxi drivers say they want to work for Uber, but will there be enough of them?

B.C. has yet to welcome Uber or its rival, Lyft. Meanwhile, some drivers are eager for the service to arrive — despite what some cab companies in Metro Vancouver say is a shortage of drivers in the taxi industry.

Company says it offers drivers perks that aren't available in the taxi industry

Evidence suggests taxi companies shouldn't be so concerned about ride-hailing apps taking away their customers. (Reuters)

Kelsey Anderson had been driving for Cheam Taxi for nearly a year when she decided she'd had enough. 

Anderson, 41, enjoyed working behind the wheel, but she found the 12-hour shifts long, the pay dire at times and the dispatch system unaccommodating.

She says she wouldn't work as a taxi driver anymore — but she would work for ride-hailing service Uber, if it ever comes to British Columbia.

"I think it's a fabulous idea," Anderson, said from her new home in Penticton, B.C. "Having Uber would give the consumer more options as well as the drivers more freedom."

B.C. is one of the only remaining major markets in Canada that has yet to welcome Uber or its rival, Lyft

The province is currently awaiting an independent review. And on Monday, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver will be chairing an all-party meeting to discuss ride-hailing.

As provincial officials decide whether to permit Uber to enter B.C., the company is betting that there are plenty of drivers like Anderson who want to work for the company.

But even though Uber offers to alleviate complaints about long waits, some in the taxi industry argue those promises might not materialize because there aren't enough B.C. drivers to fulfill the need.

Flexibility a top perk

Uber says thousands of people have expressed interest in becoming drivers.

survey the company commissioned in 2016 showed that more than one third of respondents said they knew someone interested in becoming a driver. 

Uber says it offers flexibility for drivers that aren't available in the taxi industry, which operates on 12-hour shifts. 

With Uber, drivers can work as little or as much as they want. The company's senior manager, Michael van Hemmen, says that's one of the top draws for its drivers. 

Uber says there are thousands of drivers in B.C. who say they know someone who would drive for the ride-hailing company. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Van Hemmen says most of Uber's 50,000 active drivers across Canada work less than 10 hours a week, and 75 per cent of them have another job — they're looking to top up their income.

It also means drivers can hop in their cars just to take advantage of peak times. The idea is that more drivers get on the road when more people need a ride home. 

'It cost me money to go out'

But many people have criticized Uber for how much it pays its drivers, who aren't guaranteed a minimum wage. 

Van Hemmen says drivers' earnings vary from market to market. 

Generally, the company skims 25 per cent off the top of their fares, and drivers keep the rest. But they also have to pay for all expenses, including gas, insurance and maintenance. 

Anderson says she had to pay for most of those expenses out of pocket when she was a taxi driver.

In fact, she even filed a complaint with the B.C. Employment Standards Tribunal over the costs — the tribunal sided with her.

"There were some nights were it cost me money to go out," she said, explaining that she had to pay the expenses regardless of whether she collected any fares. 

'Why wouldn't you drive for Uber?'

Taxi driver Pavit Dit Nagra, 24, says he understands the appeal of ride-hailing services — for customers and even for taxi drivers like him. 

"Why wouldn't you drive for Uber? (Especially) if you don't have any stake and you don't own a licence," he said.

But what concerns him most is if Uber drivers will abide by the same regulations he currently does — which is one of the main criticisms of Uber, and the main focus of the province's current independent review.

Pavit Nagra, 24, drives a taxi on weekends to help out his dad, who owns a taxi licence. He says there aren't enough drivers in Vancouver. (CBC )

Regulations aside, Nagra suspects that Uber's biggest roadblock will be finding people to work for them.

"The thing is, we don't have enough drivers," he said of the taxi industry.

Nagra says he regularly sees taxis sitting idle on Friday and Saturday nights because there aren't enough drivers to get behind the wheel. 

Driver shortage

Oni Chowdhury, MacLure's general manager, admitted his company has been struggling to find drivers since the province approved 175 new taxi licences in April

"There is a driver shortage, that's for sure," Chowdhury said, adding that other taxi companies are experiencing the same problem. 

Chowdhury says if ride-hailing does come to B.C., the lack of drivers will only get worse.

"It will happen eventually. Drivers might go to Uber and drive for themselves," he said. "We are worried, that's true. But let's see how it goes."

But that driver shortage may not apply to services like Uber.

Former taxi driver Kelsey Anderson says there's no doubt that she would sign up to drive if Uber comes to B.C.

Besides of the flexibility it offers, Anderson feels confident that Uber's driver rating system would help her establish loyal relationships with her passengers — more so than when she drove a cab and relied on central dispatch.

"I really enjoyed driving taxis, but I won't do it again," she said. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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