British Columbia

Vancouver taxi companies stop subsidizing drivers of accessible vehicles, cite ride-hailing competition

The Vancouver Taxi Association says it is no longer going to subsidize drivers who operate accessible vehicles, claiming sudden competition from ride-hailing means taxi companies can no longer afford it.

B.C. considers adding new incentives from fees it collects from Uber, Lyft

The Vancouver Taxi Association says it will no longer give wheelchair-accessible taxis priority on the call list due to increased competition by ride-hailing in the region. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Vancouver Taxi Association says it will no longer subsidize drivers who operate accessible vehicles, claiming sudden competition from ride-hailing means taxi companies can no longer afford it.

Without the subsidies, the association said, drivers are less likely to choose an accessible van because it will cost them more out of pocket.

"I want to make it crystal clear — we have not stopped trying to service these trips. We're doing our best to try and service these trips," said Kalwant Sahota, speaking Wednesday for the Vancouver Taxi Association.

"But if I've only got so many vehicles on the road, if there's an operator on the road, he's got a choice of driving a car which costs much much less to operate. At the end of day, he wants money to take home." 

In response, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says talks are underway with the taxi industry to ensure sustained and improved services for passengers with disabilities.

Trevena says the talks involve providing the taxi industry with a portion of the 30-cent trip fee that ride-hailing companies must contribute toward a passenger accessibility fund because their licences don't require them to provide vehicles for disabled passengers.

The minister says the government has also been working with the Insurance Corporation of B.C. to offer taxi drivers a new product that is equivalent to what is available for ride-hailing drivers.

The decision to end subsidies is the latest from the taxi sector in a continued turf war with Uber and Lyft over business in the region, and it's a move that leaves customers with disabilities feeling caught in the crossfire.

"I find it very worrisome," said disability advocate Laura Mackenrot. "We know already that there isn't enough supply of wheelchair-accessible taxis in general around Metro Vancouver, and that's been a problem for years ... I'm worried this news now will make wait time for people with disabilities using wheelchairs even longer."

Laura Mackenrot says people with disabilities have been caught in the crossfire of a turf battle between the Vancouver Taxi Association and ride-hailing. (CBC News)

And she says simply relying on other services like HandyDART doesn't cut it because they don't offer the same freedom and spontaneity as taxis.

Taxi companies have previously helped drivers who operate accessible vehicles because the vans are typically more expensive to run than smaller cabs, meaning drivers who use them make less profit. 

Some companies waived dispatch fees or offered a $5 bonus per trip. Others rewarded drivers with a front-of-the-line position in the dispatch centre after taking a trip in an accessible van.

The taxi association said companies are now stopping those incentives, less than a week after Uber and Lyft launched in Metro Vancouver. The move effectively discourages taxi drivers from choosing the accessible vans when they arrive for a shift.

"Drivers want to switch over from the vans onto the cars," said Sahota, who is also the president of Yellow Cab.

Sahota said cab drivers have been seeing fewer trips in general because customers are turning to ride-hailing. So, when drivers do get fares, they don't want to lose profit by driving a van suited for accessible passengers.

A Vancouver taxi driver uses the wheelchair ramp on his accessible vehicle to load luggage for cruise ship passengers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Sometimes, Sahota said, drivers make double when they drive a sedan instead of a van.

"We can't force someone to operate the vehicle. I understand. Their expenses are extremely high," said Carolyn Bauer, also with the Vancouver Taxi Association.

Sahota and Bauer said the taxi lobbyists wants the province to level the industry by capping fleet sizes for ride-hailing companies, enforcing stricter pricing rules so ride-hailing is more in line with cab fares, and offering insurance breaks for cab drivers.

Sahota called on the province to step in and offer incentives, so companies don't have to bear that cost themselves.

The province does not currently provide subsidies or incentives to cab companies, it said in a statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Providing a certain number of accessible taxis, it says, is part of the licensing requirement of many taxi companies.

"Companies who do not abide by the terms and conditions of their licence can face administrative penalties of up to $50,000 at the registrar's discretion," it said.

In terms of Uber and Lyft, the province says it has set a 30 cent fee per trip for ride-hailing services.

This fee, it says, is "intended to support accessible transportation and administration of ride-hail services."

With files from The Canadian Press

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