By Reece Mack
As the son of a London black taxi driver, I understand the plight of the modern-day taxi driver firsthand. In the age of Uber and Lyft, it’s difficult for most drivers to squeak out a modest living as drivers compete amongst themselves for the technology-adverse members of the public.
The situation came to a head in 2017 as the capital’s cabbies took to the streets in protest over what they deemed an unfair playing field. And it worked for a short while, leading the City of London not to renew Uber’s license, a decision that was reversed quietly this year. The union for London’s taxi drivers, the LTDA, claimed victory but in reality, only less than one-fifth of the city’s “black cabs” were involved in the rolling protests.
Coming to Vancouver from London, the inefficiency of the local taxi system surprised me. The maddening disorganization of the city’s taxis stands out like a wart would on Ryan Reynolds’s face. Considering the price to both the public and the taxi drivers, the B.C. Taxi Association are the only winners if the system here doesn’t change.
And it is change that the BCTA seems to fear the most. Even as the curtain slowly closes on the association’s monopoly on the market, its members have done very little to warm the hearts of Vancouverites. Instead, we have been lumbered with ride refusals outside of the city limits, questionably poor service, and continually increasing wait times.
Whenever I discuss the taxi system in Vancouver, I’m met with remarkably similar reactions—something that is incredibly difficult to do in our diverse metropolis. Rarely are those reactions positive.
One story that mainly stuck with me was that of a colleague who needed to travel two blocks to get his latest Craigslist purchase—a small bar table—home. The taxi driver who was hamstrung by company policy was apologetic but had to refuse service. After some back-and-forth discussions, my colleague abandoned hope of an exception thrust the bar table over his shoulders and started his three-block walk of shame.
Unfortunately, when we stumble into the age of the Uber, it will be each of the individual taxi drivers who feels the pain the most. Many of them are good, hard-working people, who don’t like the restrictive policies put on them either.
Moreover, when the rules provide enough wiggle room, the drivers will go above and beyond, at least in my experience. Like last winter when an elderly family member of mine was given the royal treatment. He used his cellphone provider’s text-to-landline service to let her know that he was outside, greeted her at the door, and escorted her to his awaiting vehicle.
Once they arrived at her destination, he made sure she made it inside safely, too. Simple actions like that are the first steps to building goodwill.
I’m sure that the taxi drivers’ actions would become commonplace in the city—if only the association’s members didn’t retain their monopoly on single-vehicle passenger transporation.
As the son of a taxi driver I shouldn’t say this, but hailing in the era of Uber in Vancouver cannot come soon enough.