On Thursday, UberX, the low cost offering from sharing economy giant Uber, launched in Calgary. After hundreds signed up to become the first Uber drivers in the Alberta city, the Calgary Herald reported that some would-be passengers were still left without a ride, something the company attributed to its overwhelming popularity.
“It’s been a wonderful day,” said Uber Canada spokesperson Xavier Van Chau. “We’re hearing great things (from drivers). They’re calling us to mention it’s fun, they’ve spoken with their riders, the riders are enjoying it.”
The launch happened against a familiar legal backdrop for Uber. The city says the service isn’t legal, yet no one has been fined and history suggests no one is likely to be. But one city councilor, Joe Magliocca, left no doubt as to his allegiance.
“They’re breaking the law,” he said. “It’s just selfish, they’re just being bullies on the block. It’s typical Uber. That’s what they’ve been doing all across North America. Even if they had a mandate from council not to enter the area, they still enter.”
What Magliocca claims isn’t entirely true. Uber has entered one city and decided to leave: Vancouver.
Uber came to Vancouver midway through 2012 with a soft-launch that included rides to high profile events that was spread through a word of mouth campaign. Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes was among the first to use the service. But when the company was ready to make its entry into the market official a few months later, it found a major roadblock had been placed in the way. The B.C. Passenger Transportation Board notified the company that its service was being classified as a limousine and the minimum rate for limousines is $75 per trip.
Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick told the Georgia Straight that the regulatory hurdles the company faced in Vancouver were some of the most challenging the company had faced.
Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick told the Georgia Straight that the regulatory hurdles the company faced in Vancouver were some of the most challenging the company had faced. The winners of the standoff were a taxi industry in which regulators had not issued a new license for 25 years and the few holders of taxi “medallions”, the licenses to operate a cab that have soared in value to as much as $800,000 in recent years.
The loser was every other citizen of Greater Vancouver.
As a resident of the city for nearly twenty years I can confirm that taxi service here is simply god-awful. Trying to get a cab is tough at any time, but the problem is compounded by the almost total disdain of drivers for their customers. Multiple times over multiple years I was illegally refused a ride to my home on the North Shore because cabs preferred shorter trips within the city. The excuses fumbled out after I entered the taxi.
“I need to go get gas, can’t take you there,” or “I’m about to check out of service,” or “i’m not allowed to go to the North Shore”. After one such recent incident I asked the driver to take me home or take me to the nearest police station, where I would report this to the VPD. I got home that night.
Contrast this to the multiple trips I have taken with Uber in places like Toronto, Scottsdale and San Francisco. Uber, first of all, is always cheaper, in some cases much, much cheaper. The cars are usually cleaner and normally later models. The drivers are friendlier, with some offering free bottled water and even snacks. And the service feels safer because you have an electronic record of the route and a picture of the driver. It’s also much faster.
Vancouver’s mayor Gregor Robertson has done much to try and improve the city’s livability. His move to create bike lanes was controversial, but it is proving to be a success. Robertson wants to make Vancouver a leader energy efficiency and waste reduction, and he wants to promote clean air and local food. But the fact that Vancouver sent Uber packing is a major mark against his record.
With the stroke of a pen and a press conference with Travis Kalanick, Robertson could instantly improve the livability of Vancouver for all its residents. He should do it.