Uber town-car service shut down in Vancouver by B.C. Passenger Transportation Board

At 3 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning, Natasha Neale found herself walking 10 deserted blocks from the nearest bus stop to her home. “There weren’t any cabs,” she says exasperatedly. “There are never enough cabs.”

Ordinarily, Neale, who works the door at Chinatown’s Fortune Sound Club on weekends, would have used her smartphone to order a car from Uber, the on-demand town-car service that operates in more than 20 cities. Seven minutes and $15 later, she would have been home. But due to a ruling earlier in the week by the province’s Passenger Transportation Board (formerly the Motor Carrier Commission), Uber’s services had been effectively shut down. “So I spent a half-hour on the bus and then walked home alone in the cold,” Neale says, adding: “Not very safe.”

San Francisco–based Uber arrived in town quietly this past summer with a “soft launch”. Clubgoers, socialites, media, and “influencers” fuelled its growth by word of mouth, the secrecy adding to its exclusivity. Occasionally, the company offered free rides to tony restaurant openings or Vancouver Fashion Week parties, all with the caveat that publicizing “secret” Uber too widely before its official launch would overload the service.

Uber users downloaded the company’s app and, after providing some basic information, scanned a credit card into the system. Once registered, passengers used the app’s GPS locator to digitally hail a driver to their location. Riders were given the driver’s name, licence-plate number, and user-generated service rating (out of five stars). A real-time map charted the vehicle’s progress to the pickup location and updated the waiting time. The driver, typically, texted to announce his arrival. At the end of the journey, the user’s credit card was billed (tip included), and a detailed receipt—for 30 percent above regular taxi rates and featuring a map of the route travelled—was sent to the subscriber’s registered email account.

But in late November, on the eve of the company’s public launch, the PTB officially notified Uber that the province’s mandated minimum rate for limousines is $75 per trip, regardless of distance travelled or duration.

“Yes, we knew about the $75-per-trip mandate when we looked at entering the Vancouver market,” Uber cofounder and CEO Travis Kalanick tells the Georgia Straight by phone from Los Angeles. “Of course, almost no one was abiding by that rule. Even today, you can call virtually any limo company in town and get rides for far less than $75. And that’s not just the airport limousines that have an exemption from the rules and charge nearly half that.”

Kalanick points out that Uber is not a limo company but a “lead generator” connecting customers to the nearest transportation provider, i.e., a driver with a vehicle, meaning an SUV or a town car. He is also sanguine about the obstacles Uber faces when breaking into new markets. Uber’s business model has met with resistance from various transportation providers in many of the cities in which it now operates. “In Washington, D.C., they tried to pass a law overnight to outlaw on-demand sedan services,” he recalls. “But we had so many users who took to social media and complained, that the motion was dropped the next morning.” Vancouver’s regulatory hurdles, he adds, are some of the most challenging Uber has faced to date.

Kalanick and his Vancouver team are hoping that public opinion works in their favour again after sending out a November 22 email to users outlining the PTB’s intent to enforce the existing legislation. The #UberVanLove hashtag blew up on Twitter after the email urged subscribers to voice their displeasure (“abolish taxi protectionism”) to Mayor Gregor Robertson, B.C. Minister of Transportation Mary Polak, and Premier Christy Clark.

Trolling that Twitter thread was Gunter Schlieper, a limousine-company owner and industry consultant. In an interview with the Straight, Schlieper claimed to be the person responsible for notifying the PTB about Uber’s entry into the Vancouver market. Although not against the company’s business model of online dispatching per se, he is concerned about public safety and the long-term viability of the limousine industry if Uber is allowed to operate in the Lower Mainland.

“You can’t run a limousine 24 hours a day and only charge what they’re charging and still keep up the maintenance on the vehicle,” Schlieper says. “I’m afraid that with the Uber model, it’s going to be a race to the bottom for everyone.”

Although he is staunchly against some of Uber’s practices, he saves most of his anger for the PTB. “They’re useless,” he says, “appointed by the government but with no background in the industry. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

As an example, Schlieper points to one of several Byzantine loopholes in the law: “If Uber were running stretch limos instead of sedans, then they would legally be considered buses and could charge whatever they wanted. I couldn’t have complained to the PTB. So the more people you carry, the fewer regulations you have to follow. Does that make sense to you?”

Jan Broocke, director and secretary of the Passenger Transportation Board, backs up Schlieper’s claim. “Any vehicle with 11 or more passengers is subject to a different classification and rate structure,” she says. “But Uber is running town cars and SUVs, and the regulations for vehicles serving 11 or fewer passengers have been in place since the spring of 2011.”

Asked if the PTB would acknowledge and possibly approve Uber’s business model of on-demand sedan service, Broocke says the board is duty-bound to consider any application that comes before it. However, she says a similar application from a limousine company was rejected a few years ago.

In the meantime, Kalanick and Vancouver Uber are hopeful that some accommodation can be reached between Uber, the taxi and limo companies, and consumers. “This is a product that people want and there should be a way for the market to allow for it,” he says.

Schlieper warns that consumers should be careful what they ask for. “I want the minimum rates gone too, but eventually, if it keeps getting cheaper and cheaper for a discretionary item like a limousine, eventually, the limos aren’t going to be any different than a big taxi.”

On the East Side, Neale just wants to get home safe and sound. “I wish Uber could go back to its testing phase when no one knew about it,” she says wistfully. “I mean, it’s only going to get colder, right?”

Comments (35) Add New Comment
VancouverDave
The thing to is to start eliminating politicians until the remaining ones realize who they work for.
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Nick M
Uber was an excellent service with clean cars and knowledgeable, polite drivers. Its only downside was that it had far too few cars to be a reliable resource. Regardless, this ruling is ridiculous and it's time to stop politicizing every transportation decision and start making this an actual "green" city rather than a green city in name only.
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Mikem
Nick M Uber doesn't own any Sedan car or limo to provide clean cars and knowledgeable, polite drivers. They use all the drivers and cars from existing limo companies and yes they don't provide any training to make those driver better. This Ruling is not new all it was Uber trying to ignore it and Passenger Transportation Board is trying to enforce it. I fully agree with PTB otherwise what if someone come from EU and start selling dope openly and start claiming it should be allowed as people using it are very happy. you will see many more tweets, Facebook or message board posts supporting it, Does that mean Canada GOVT have to make that legal. If Uber are allowed to continue breaking rules then trust me tomorrow, next week or next month many others will start breaking rules because they know no one is enforcing any rules and you will be blaming PTB for the mess.
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maggie b
I had a terrible experience with Uber in Vancouver and would never recommend them to anyone. My driver literally left me at the side of the road after yelling and swearing at me. An Uber rep promised to call me to discuss the issue but failed to call. I'm happy they are out of business as their drivers were clearly not being vetted.
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John N
People seem to be a little unclear on what Uber does. It is a separate dispatch and billing service for independent limo/cab drivers to get extra business. They set a rate, X, add 20% for a tip, then take 8% of the total as a service fee.

This doesn't mean they take half of the tip. If you want to say, they take 10% of the fare as a service fee and give all of the tip to the driver, it works out pretty much the same way. This is a law suit from an established cab company trying to kill their competition. Happens every day, a law suit filed doesn't mean there's any meaning to it.

Finally, a $75 minimum by law? W. T. F., i had to read that a couple of times, I felt for sure that it must have said 'Maximum'. So nice of the PTB to create a near useless rule protecting established Limo providers over the public. If it was a $75 a hour maximum, then perhaps it would protect consumers. If taxi cabs can be maintained for 30% less (the Uber markup), then 'town cars' can too. And if you can't maintain your car for what Uber pays you, then don't use it. If Uber was coming in, undercutting cabs by organizing unlicensed motorists to be paid to take rides, then yes, there's a big problem. That's not the situation.
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J Unger
To Maggie B. I'm sorry to hear of your unpleasant experience with your driver. I was a driver with Uber, actually their first driver, and I assure you that the bad drivers were weeded out of the system. Like any n incumbent company, there are going to be the occasion lapses in service. Use the airline industry as an example. When Uber is officially approved, I am sure that, should you try the service again, you will have a far more pleasant experience. Please don't dismiss the service due to one poor driver. Uber is the future of the livery industry. Copy cat companies might surface, but Uber is the real thing. And the drivers, for the most part, are professional. Other companies might offer car services which are easier on the wallet, but with Uber there advantages:..trust, security, safety and reliability. And more. Uber will get approval in Vancouver and you just might get James as your chauffeur. I will ensure that your Uber drive is pleasant! Please support Uber.
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mikem
If they have such a great technology and Consumer love it then why don't they start it the way you start any other business "the right way comply with rules and regulations" You can't just start something, make you own rules then ask GOVT to comply with it. Yes PTB say $75 per hour minimum because these are premium limo services, same as Uber charging more than a regular taxi to provide taxi services. Taxi and limo licence both have different guidelines, different rules and different purpose. I have no problem Uber providing premium taxi services with taxis and licence obtain under taxi. They need to comply with terms and conditions those licences are obtain. I am not against best service for people I am talking about breaking rules.
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mikem
Here is another great example what I am talking about

Taxi app company Uber charged with licensing offences 12/05/2012
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1298266--uber-taxi-charged-with-...

City officials say a company offering a smartphone app to hail taxis and limousines in Toronto is operating illegally.

The city has charged Uber with 25 municipal licencing offences, including operation of an unlicensed taxi brokerage and unlicensed limo service, since they began operating in Toronto in late summer.

The company doesn’t have its own fleet. Uber gives the smartphone, as well as the dashboard cradle it sits in, free to cab drivers from other companies who sign up.

But the company needs a licence to dispatch, says Richard Mucha, acting manager of licensing enforcement for the city.

“If you plan on running a limousine service in the City of Toronto, or a taxi cab brokerage, then you require a licence,” says Mucha. “We met with Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick in the spring of this year and we advised him in no uncertain terms that they were not operating in accordance with the City of Toronto’s licensing bylaw. So our position should come as no surprise to Uber.”

Uber did not respond to requests for comment.

None of the charges have been dealt with in court.

Penalties range from $150 to $250 for each individual charge, but cumulatively, could go as high as $25,000. “The more convictions that are rendered, certainly the higher the fines,” says Mucha.

The Justice of the Peace who will hear the case could also stop the company from operating by issuing a prohibition order. If that doesn’t happen, the city could go to Superior Court to ask for an injunction.

Application fees for a taxi cab brokerage license are just under $370, but Mucha says Uber has never applied for one.

The company has encountered similar opposition in U.S. cities and is facing fines and lawsuits.

The company’s website says passengers are charged a 20 per cent gratuity above the metred fare. One Toronto cab driver said Uber takes a portion of that money.

That, too, is a violation, Mucha says.

“If you’re charging anything other than the meter rate then that is contrary to the city’s licensing bylaw.”

The cab driver enters the metered fare into his phone and the application automatically adds the premium. The amount is charged to a passenger’s credit card, which they provide when they download the app.

An unlicensed driver using the app has already been charged and convicted, says Mucha. As of Wednesday, Uber was still operating in Toronto.

The taxi industry has experienced a bit of a shakeup with the onset of the applications.

Hailo, which has an office at Queen St. near Sherbourne St., offers a similar app, but the company has escaped regulatory censure in Toronto because it is a licensed taxi brokerage and works with licensed drivers.

And it charges the driver to use the service, not the passenger.

Since Hailo launched in September, 30,000 passengers have downloaded the app, says company president Justin Raymond. And 600 cabbies are using the driver app.

But Hailo has experienced resistance from established operators such as Beck. Some cab drivers for the company say they’ve been pressured not to use the app. The city is currently investigating complaints against the cab brokerage, although Mucha wouldn’t specify what they were.

Toronto is reviewing its licensing bylaws with regards to taxi cabs and the apps will figure in the debate.

“Certainly we’re not against technology,” says Mucha. But “there would be some opposition to having anything charged beyond the metered rate from an issue of transparency.”

Uber and the city will be in court Jan. 30 when a trial date will be set.

https://twitter.com/MaryPolakMLA
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@MayorGregor
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Howard
Let the consumer decide! This was a great service. Great technology. This is the future. embrace it. Work with it, and compete with it. Let the consumer decide.
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Ricky
vancouver taxi mafia is so powerfu as City , Mayor and politician are all together in this crap. Very few people know that these cab companies get the cab licenses from PTB for free and then sell those licenses for 600K TO 900K per cab. its a cash business so tax is paid to city where as all these cabbies have 2 or 3 homes .
They are rude and have no respect for the clients.

CAB MAFIA VANCOUVER STYLE
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KG
The driver of the cab has a hard time making money. Other local municipalities drivers would pickup but aren't allowed to pickup. If anything complain to the PTB and tell them you want other municipality drivers to pickup customers in Vancouver. Delta, Coquitlam, Surrey, White Rock, North Van cabs are constantly trying to get the PTB to approve Vancouver pickups but they won't. If a Surrey driver picks up in Vancouver they get hit with a $500 fine.
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Xksb
I want uber in Vancouver!
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John
we all need to get together and protest against that rule and make the people awareness about all the taxi companies....because city gives the plate to company only for 50 bucks and they sell same plate for 8000000$ if the city takes all the rezponsibilty it would be 20 millin incone years to the city
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John Galt
Just like unions, the aim of the Taxi racket is to limit supply and rape the consumer. I have had numerous negative experiences in cabs where the driver overcharges my voucher, takes the scenic route or drives 10 km under the limit in order to make more money. And that's not mentioning the ones who refuse to drive me to the suburbs because they're going "off shift soon". At least with Uber I can see the negative reviews of who needs a lesson in personal hygiene before i step in the vehicle.
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Jon
I love if coming uber in Vancouver
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