With Uber on the way, Metro Vancouver taxi boundaries called into question
Ride-hailing services won't be bound by municipal zones the way taxis are
The question of whether cab companies based in one Metro Vancouver city should to be allowed to pick up passengers on a return trip from another municipality isn't new — driving home empty isn't helpful for the driver's bottom line, or for the environment.
But now that Uber is planning to enter the market unhindered by the same boundaries, the issue has bubbled to the surface.
"We need to compete on a level playing field," said Mohan Kang, president of the B.C. Taxi Association, which represents the majority of B.C.'s cab companies. "If we cannot compete with the ride-hailing, we cannot survive ... We won't stay viable."
Lower Mainland taxi companies are bound by geographic restrictions on where they can pick up passengers.
According to Kang, eliminating taxis' boundaries will help with congestion problems, taxi drivers won't feel the need to speed back to their permitted area, and ride refusals won't be as common.
It's an issue that the B.C. Liberals have picked up.
"What you're hearing from the suburban taxi industry, is that they want to see much larger geographic boundaries for their companies as well, if ride-hailing companies are going to basically be able to operate from Whistler to Chilliwack," said Liberal MLA Peter Milobar, opposition critic for the environment and climate change.
Passenger Transportation Board considering issue
George Heyman, minister of environment and climate change strategy, said he isn't opposed to rethinking the issue of geographic boundaries for taxis. But he said on Wednesday that the issue is complicated.
"Some in the taxi industry would prefer no zone boundaries, others want to maintain them. It's an issue the Passenger Transportation Board is looking at," said Heyman.
"One of the concerns about eliminating boundaries is that taxis will migrate away from some of the smaller areas and people there will find it even harder to get a ride," he said.
Garland Chow, associate professor emeritus at UBC's Sauder School of Business, also expressed concern that removing the rules around municipal taxi zones might leave some quiet areas under-served, and the problem may not be addressed by Uber, which in theory distributes its service based on market demand and surge pricing.
"I think there are good reasons for having these boundaries," said Chow, who suggested a change to the system that would allow cab drivers to pick up passengers on return trips, making the system more efficient.
He suggests that enforcement to ensure drivers are genuinely just picking up fares on their way home, rather than just working in areas outside their municipality, could be based on occasional audits.
"That can be accomplished with the electronics that accompany all the ... taxis or ride-hailing companies, because every trip is tracked on GPS," said Chow.
For Kang, the idea that taxi drivers will concentrate in busy areas like downtown Vancouver or the airport — and ignore the smaller, out-of-the-way municipalities — won't be a concern if the boundaries are lifted.
"That's a myth; that's a fairy tale," he said, adding that drivers won't be comfortable working in areas outside their home municipalities.
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