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 (38) Add New Comment
Teedeer
NO FUN Vancouver earns is reputation once again.
46
35
Rating: +11
mr jim 374
I have been to several american cities that offer similar town car services and they are far preferable to to taxis to me personally. These cities all still have thriving taxi and limo industries. I Live in the valley so when i go downtown to catch a band at a club and want to have a few, my option is a $150.00 plus hotel because it is cheaper than a cab even if you could find one to take you here. Downtown manhattan to jfk cost me $80.00 flat rate. Downtown seattle hotel to safeco field,$ 20.00 flat rate both in nice towncars. Another example of vancouvers podunk ways
45
47
Rating: -2
Jonathan S
Silly girl -- doesn't she know that she's supposed to ride her bike?
44
41
Rating: +3
Duane Storey
I absolutely agree with the person in the article - there are never enough cabs in the city. I have waited 30 minutes on days just to find a taxi, and when it's raining even longer. It's amazing when you compare Vancouver taxi service with cities like New York or San Francisco. It's really embarrassing.
41
46
Rating: -5
Jason Bailey
I am a huge fan of Uber and used it regularly. In Vancouver, cabs are impossible to get, drivers are rude and reckless drivers. They could give a sh#t about customer service. Plus they always want cash. Uber was comfortable, clean, drivers we spectacular, and I didn't have to worry about cash or tracking expenses. I used them to pick up my kids and get them home safe from parties and such. The PTS is a sham. It is their to protect the Taxi license monopoly, not to protect consumers and tax payers.
58
43
Rating: +15
James Unger
Technologies, industries and therefore, consumer needs are changing, seemingly faster than the regulatory bodies are changing. While I appreciate the implementation of regulations, intended to protect the industry and the consumer, I do not support the apparent protectionism afforded a few industry providers who have been hiding for years behind the monopoly, created by apparent over-regulation and “red tape”, thereby strangling competition. Competition is healthy! Is it not? In a few short months, Uber did something to this industry which no one else has done: Offered a great product at a price which consumers are happy with! C'mon PTB. Get with the changing times. We are in the 21st Century! Listen to the demands of the public, and allow Uber to operate and flourish. It will only serve to help the economy, employ the many drivers here who love providing the service (myself included), and provide customers with a great and welcome service! Is that not what ultimately matters!
52
37
Rating: +15
Juan Carlos
The level of service offered by Uber was so far above whatever else is available in this city, it's no wonder they were shut down. When you have a monopoly of crappy service as do the collective taxis of Vancouver, the last thing you need is a competitor with better cars, better service and competitive prices. I have been using Uber a lot, and given what they offer, would possibly still prefer a $75 Uber ride to a $40 cab ride.

It should be noted how badly Uber is getting screwed here -- there are plenty of Limo services that don't charge a $70 minimum. Hell, a limo from the airport to downtown is $40.

Pretty powerful lobby when you own the industry and have a government regulatory body looking out for you. Stops competition, promotes crappy service with no improvement... and we all suffer for it.
57
46
Rating: +11
I Just Don't Get It
I guess this makes Vancouver is a small town thanks to the PTB & other backward thinking governing morons.They probably think everybody here goes to bed at 8:30 at night.
50
34
Rating: +16
Chris Foster
This is like saying Timmies can't open in a town because Starbucks is already there. If Taxi's were effective, or even as remotely reliable as this system, maybe it would be different.
56
38
Rating: +18
Alex Ketch
The difficulty in Vancouver in catching transportation especially during the evening is a problem. Many times I have caught a regular taxicab home after a long wait. I have elected not to attend any Xmas parties this year in the downtown area due to lack of transportation home. A service like uber would have addressed this need and benefit everyone....drivers (employment), local business, and customers.
47
38
Rating: +9
jheywood
Uber was fun, fast and easy. It was great. It cost a bit more than a taxi for us but we were willing to pay. It used tech, I could see where the driver was and got updates on how long before arrival, and the app handled all the payment so when we arrived at destination all we had to do was say "thanks for the ride". Let the market find its way
35
34
Rating: +1
Who's Liable
If Uber is recruiting private vehicles then there is no proper insurance coverage for the poor passenger who may suffer permanent injuries in a catastrophic accident. For cab companies and limo companies these insurance premiums are 10 times the average cost for that protection. That's the big flaw with Uber They're not liable and the victim is screwed.
34
53
Rating: -19
mikem
Uber have to follow rules like everyone else in limo or taxi industry. If they are breaking Vancouver BC rules then they should get fined like everyone else. I just wonder if they pay any tax (HST) in Vancouver or head office charge credit card in SF and nothing back to BC. They are not in trouble only in Vancouver, They got kicked out from New York, Sued in many city's. They are breaking rules where-ever they go not only in Vancouver and this is not first time. Just see this person history yourself http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=3116

@MayorGregor @christyclarkbc @MaryPolakMLA
25
45
Rating: -20
Gunning for Uber
Did Uber tell you about surging ? Once you got hooked on Uber and there was major demand, rates would climb as the number of cars on the road decreased. Busy nights could be much more expensive than slow nights. Did Uber tell you they took no major risk, but they exposed their drivers to lose of their business and income ? Uber played on people wanting caviar service at hamburger prices.
29
55
Rating: -26
Mr jim 374
Interesting article mike m, thank you. I did not understand about the surging issue and the services i have used in the states gave you your rate before the trip. I still maintain that because of overbearing regulation we here are left with a taxi/ towncar system that is years behind other cities. The cops and icbc officials were all over the media friday to announce the start of the winter counter attack program to keep drinking drivers off the road , kudos to that concept, i don't drink and drive and don' want to be on the road with those who do . They are urging people to plan on how to get home safely. Skytrain shuts down before the late night bars do. If you live south or east of the Fraser river the buses only travel along primary roads leaving vast numbers of the populace unserviced at night. Result, cab fare from guildford sheraton to Fort Langley $ 50.00
36
32
Rating: +4
prenup
WTF!?!?!

I used it all the time. It was a much better service then cabs. Why the hell isnt it the choice of the consumer? Why do cabs get a monopoly and able to set any standard they want?

This is stupid...im starting to hate this city.
46
37
Rating: +9
Robc
We use Über in Toronto and we love it. Where I would take a chance and have two beers and still drive because I hated getting into a taxi are behind me. I take Über and gladly pay the difference; surge included. We've spoken to many of the limo drivers and they also love Über. They're independent limo drivers that use über to fill a gap the same way consumers use über to fill a gap. Taxis and regular limo companies will always be around; über just offers the consumers a choice.

And to refute some claims. The majority of the money stays in Canada. Über is San Francisco based and they do make money doing this, but we're supporting local limo companies that we wouldn't normally use. And as for maintenance, the cars we've been in are all maintained by the limo owners who have regular business outside of uber so the car maintenance are not sacraficed.

I did live in Vancouver for 8 years and this small minded approach by the city is one of the reasons I prefer Toronto. The Leafs losing ways aside.
34
41
Rating: -7
Mikem
I don't think Uber is Vancouver registered company, if they were PTB have probably Sued them by now for breaking all those rules. They charge HST and if they are not Canadian registered company they won't be filing any tax including HST, so they will consider that as 12% extra profit and on top that they charge 20% gratuity and pass only half to driver http://gigaom.com/2012/10/05/chicago-cabbies-sue-hip-car-service-uber-fo... that make them not so honest as they claim. They are trying to help anyone and providing cheap services, it is all about making money by hook or crook way.
23
41
Rating: -18
kenp
This wouldn't have been a problem if they'd been offering their services in a pedi-cab.
34
27
Rating: +7
Internaut
The thing to do is, find out which politicians have shares in cab companies.
35
30
Rating: +5

Pages

Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.