Taxi companies and drivers are taking on new initiatives in the hope of gaining a competitive edge as they prepare for the arrival of rideshare services in fall 2019.
The provincial government has said they will introduce legislation to enable Uber and other services to enter the B.C. market next year. Despite years of opposition, the taxi companies are now adjusting to the upcoming change.
“We have never been against ridesharing apps, we just want it to be a level playing field,” said Carolyn Bauer, spokesperson for the Vancouver Taxi Association, which represents Yellow Cab, MacLure’s Cabs, Vancouver Taxi, Black Top and Checker Cabs.“Our drivers solely depend on this job to make a living and we need to ensure they continue to make money.”
Some initiatives are being developed to cope with rival services such as reinventing the mobile app called Kater and launching a social-media campaign urging people to ride local. Kater, a service that connects vehicle owners with professional chauffeurs, was introduced in 2017. It is being converted into a ridesharing app for Vancouver Taxi Association drivers who will offer discounts to customers.
“A pilot test will be conducted rolling taxis into the app early next year,” said Bauer. The social-media campaign is being designed to reinforce the trust of taxi customers, she added.
But while Vancouverites are eager for the arrival of ridesharing, otherwise known as transport network companies. to improve convenience and affordability, taxi drivers still have trepidations.
Taxi drivers weigh in
Kuldeep Rumana, a 19-year driver with Yellow Cab, is keeping his options open.
“I am just a driver here,” he says. He may decide to switch companies depending on how Uber is received and how the taxi business performs next year.
His colleague, 65-year-old Iqbal Atwal, a shareholder at Yellow Cab, has a lot more at stake and fears his vehicle will further devalue. He is looking to the government to ensure fairness.
“Since 2015, the value of a licence plate has substantially dwindled from $500,000 to $150,000. The yearly insurance of $30,000 also takes a toll on shareholders,” he said.
His concerns do not end with ridesharing. “There is also a shortage of drivers willing to join the industry now.”
Vancouver is one of the last big cities in North America that doesn’t allow to Uber to operate, largely because the provincial government has blocked ridesharing for years. Now, the government has proposed two conditions: Uber drivers pay a higher insurance rates than private-vehicle operators at par with taxi insurance and Uber drivers undergo the same strict security checks as taxi operators.
Bauer said when Uber hits the streets, the taxi companies will be ready to compete.
“There are surely uncertainties, and we do have concerns, but I think we are going to be just fine.”