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Mayor expects fight over ride-hailing service coming to Royal City

Jonathan Coté says cab companies should improve customer service

Parked Royal City Taxi cab. Creative Commons photo.
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By Bonnie Lee La Madeleine

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté supports the entry of ride-hailing services into the region as long as they are subject to the same regulatory and operational requirements that govern taxi and limo services.

Coté was reacting to last week’s announcement from the provincial government that ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft will be operating in B.C. by Christmas.

Taxi companies are angry

“[The taxi companies] are going to try and fight this in every way they can,” said Coté of the transportation companies that allow customers to hail a ride via an app from someone driving their own car.

Cab drivers have long opposed the entry of ride-hailing companies from moving into the region, citing concerns about competition and low standards of the service.

To offset their concern, the government promised to implement seven measures, including limiting street-side hailing to taxis, increasing taxi supply and reducing red tape.

Government lowering standards for ride-sharing and taxi companies

Mohan Kang, president of the B.C. Taxi Association, said he was concerned with two of the government’s recommendations. The first is the decision to reduce safety regulations that oversee the taxi industry.

“Uber and Uber-like services should be held to B.C. standards for criminal [record] checks, class four licences and training with the Justice Institute,” Kang said. Instead, he added, the government has lowered safety standards for cabs by reducing requirements for drivers and expanding the area of operation for cabs and ride-hailing services.

He wants drivers and ride-hailing services to be held to local standards. If they are, he thinks the taxi industry can compete.

“In Austin, Texas, when they imposed stronger criminal background checks on Uber and Lyft, they left. What does that tell you?” Kang said.

Taxi’s need to improve customer service

The challenge, according to Coté, is to ensure the two services operate under similar rules and regulations. But those concessions may not be enough. He added that taxi companies should look for ways to improve customer service.

Taxi customer Shannon Dowle has a long list of complaints about taxi service. She welcomes any service that ensures she can get around without delays or hassle.

“I hate the taxis here,” Dowle said.I have waited 45 minutes at home for a cab and I was once stranded for 30 minutes.” She, and a group of women sitting with her near the play area at New Westminster Station, all want to see ride-hailing come to the city.

“But, if they improve customer service, I’d be happy to take a taxi again,” Dowle said.

The problem is how to manage supply and demand

New Westminster Coun. Patrick Johnstone is not as welcoming. Like the mayor, he doesn’t want the arrival of ride-hailing services to put undue pressure on the taxi industry.

He said the regulation process by the Passenger Transportation Board, which oversees the licensing of taxis, shuttles, vans and inner-city buses in the province, might be part of the industry’s challenge.

“About a year ago, Royal City Taxi said they were going to the board for 18 new permits to improve service; they got two,” Johnstone said. If these requests had been answered, he added, the companies may have been able to support local demand.

Jan Broocke, director of the transportation board, outlined the criteria a cab company needs to meet to get new permits in an application. They include providing data on use, peak times and population.

“The board makes its decisions based on the evidence provided in the application files,” she wrote in an email. “With additional taxis, the board expects companies to provide operational data on year over year trends in trip volumes, fleet utilization and vehicle response times.”

In the written decision to reduce the number of taxis to two, the transportation board said Royal City Taxi failed to justify the increase, provided incomplete data sets and relied on projections for future population rather than show immediate need.

Kang supported the board’s decision. His is concerned that the public service the PTB provides will be reduced under the provincial government’s recommendations for incorporating ride-hailing into Metro Vancouver’s transit options.

“The PTB is doing a good job, but there are delays,” he said.

The Voice contacted a local spokesperson for Uber but she was not available for an interview prior to deadline. The company said on Twitter that the government’s announcement was “a step forward.”

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