Shortly after Uber Technologies brought its controversial ride-hailing service to Vancouver in 2012, it was effectively shut down by the Passenger Transportation Board, which regulates taxis and limousines in British Columbia.
More than two years later, the San Francisco–based company is working on a comeback, and Douglas College kinesiology student Cameron Nicol wants to give the local taxi industry a fighting chance in the face of Uber’s technological prowess.
“My problem is that they don’t follow the rules,” Nicol said of Uber during a phone interview with the Georgia Straight from his Port Coquitlam home. “I think their idea is great. But they need to be regulated.”
Nicol is a cofounder and partner of Cab Share Canada, which released a taxi-sharing app for the iPhone in November 2014 and hopes to put out Android and Windows Phone versions in the next few months. It’s one of a handful of Vancouver-based ride-sharing startups intent on shaking up the private-transportation scene.
After creating an account in the free Cab Share Canada app—which works in Vancouver and London, Ontario—users enter their destination and departure date and time. An algorithm searches for similar trips submitted by other users. If users accept a match, the app takes them to a chat screen where they can iron out the details and call a local taxi company.
According to Nicol, by helping people split fares, the startup aims to make cab rides more affordable and expand the market for taxis. He asserted that the app can save people money and could help reduce congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Nicol noted Cab Share Canada plans to expand across the country and make money by selling advertising and, potentially, charging taxi companies to be featured in the app.
“Key for us is reaching critical mass in the areas where we are, because obviously if there’s only 100 people using it throughout Vancouver, no one’s ever going to find anyone to match with,” Nicol said. “But if you have thousands, then people try to find more rides and just more people find each other.”
Another tech startup, Go2gether, is behind a ride-sharing app that’s been beta-tested by Simon Fraser University, Vancity, and the Vancouver Airport Authority to promote carpooling by staff and students. There’s also Carsurfing, a locally developed ride-sharing platform tied to Facebook events.
While his startup has been likened to Uber, North Vancouver resident Otis Perrick told the Straight that Ripe Holdings is neither in the business of ride-sharing, nor is it looking to compete with taxis. Ripe wants to introduce a “point-to-point black sedan service” in Metro Vancouver that would require the use of a mobile app to book rides and pay fares.
According to Perrick, the company’s cofounder and CEO, Ripe’s proposed rates fall between those of taxis and limousines, the latter of which must charge a minimum of $75 per hour. In 2012, the Passenger Transportation Board sent Uber packing by ordering it to charge limo rates.
Trips with Ripe would start at $20. After the first four kilometres, customers would be charged $2.60 per kilometre (or 75 cents per minute when stuck in traffic). Ripe would waive its $10 cancellation fee if the customer booked another ride within 48 hours.
In December 2014, the PTB held a hearing on Ripe’s second application for a company-owned fleet of 20 sedan limousines. The board had rejected the first application for a “special authorization” licence in 2013, saying Ripe hadn’t provided sufficient evidence of “public need” for its service.
“We’re not looking for an exclusive here,” Perrick said in the Yaletown office of Disruptive Publishers, the digital-media studio he founded in 2007. “You have a taxi, which is a great service, but there’s a time and place for it. You have a limousine on an hourly rate, which there’s a time and place for. You have the opportunity for a mid-tier luxury sedan. It doesn’t exist. So it’s a new market for Vancouver, and it’s a proven market throughout North America.”
Ripe’s plans would see five of its sedans based in Vancouver, four in Surrey and Langley, and the rest in other municipalities across Metro Vancouver. Perrick noted that, upon obtaining PTB approval, Ripe would apply for limousine licences at the municipal level.
On March 25, Vancouver city council voted to extend a moratorium on issuing new taxi licences until October 31—a move that will likely stop Uber from resuming operations in the city until the fall. Perrick remarked that he doesn’t want to see Uber return without the blessing of both the PTB and city hall.
“I want to see an option that goes through the proper process, working with the Passenger Transportation Board, getting the proper approvals from the city, and having properly insured cars for the safety of the passengers,” Perrick said. “Uber doesn’t do that.”
In 2010, Flo Devellennes founded HitchWhistler as a way for him and his friends to find other Vancouver skiers and snowboarders bound for Whistler Blackcomb to split the cost of gasoline with. Four months ago, the Cambie Village resident renamed the long-distance ride-sharing website HitchPlanet and expanded it to serve 70 destinations, including Calgary, Seattle, Portland, and Victoria.
Trips arranged through HitchPlanet, which boasts 10,000 members, must cover a minimum distance of 50 kilometres. When drivers post a trip to the site, they set the cost of each seat. HitchPlanet charges “hitchers” a 15-percent commission on top of that. The online booking system compensates drivers with some or all of the hitchers’ contribution if they cancel at the last minute or don’t show up.
“We monitor the site fairly actively to see if anyone like a bus service or a mini shuttle would try and use it, because we don’t allow people to make money,” Devellennes told the Straight during a Skype call from Guatemala. “It’s really just a community-based service to help people get around and cover their costs.”
According to Devellennes, the goals of HitchPlanet are to help travellers save money, forge real-life connections with each other, and reduce their environmental impact—all by filling seats that would otherwise be empty. HitchPlanet has partnered with Modo, the local car-sharing cooperative, in order to encourage ride-sharing by drivers who don’t own a vehicle.
Although Uber bills itself as a ride-sharing service, Devellennes contended it’s more accurately described as a “real-time taxi service”. Nevertheless, he remarked that a benefit of Uber’s “misleading” usage of ride-sharing is that it popularized the term.
While Uber is changing how people get around within cities in 55 countries, Devellennes maintained HitchPlanet aims to do this between cities, albeit in a very different manner.
“We don’t actually put cars on the road,” Devellennes said. “We take existing cars and people who are already going somewhere, and we help them fill their seats. Whereas Uber pays people a wage essentially to drive around and replace taxis in cities.”