Travis Kalanick in Vancouver, February 15, 2016. (Photo by Kia Besharat).
“I usually go to rooms and the first thing I will ask is “who came here in an Uber? That question doesn’t work out so well here in Vancouver….”
Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick was in Vancouver Monday as a guest of Launch Academy, a tech incubator on the city’s downtown east side.
After fielding questions about his experience co-founding the world’s most famous sharing economy concern as well as previous efforts such as peer-to-peer file sharing companies Scour and Red Swoosh, Kalanick addressed what many had come to see him about: the conspicuous absence of Uber in Vancouver. Kalanick, dressed in jeans and red Nikes, said he expects the city will ultimately allow the service to return.
He was asked pointedly why Uber would be good for the city.
If you want to create jobs, if you don’t like traffic, if you don’t like drunk driving, if you don’t like pollution, then I think Uber is a good solution for Vancouver.
“It’s straightforward,” he said. “It does start with a high-quality service for the lowest possible price. What that means is I can push a button and reliably get where I need to go when I want to. And if you can do it at a really cost effective price it means people don’t have to own cars. And when people don’t have to owns cars then the first thing that happens is the parking situation in the city gets much better. In cities across North America, thirty per cent of the land is used to store these cars that we sit in for only four per cent of the day. And so you have whole structures, instead of parks, hospitals, instead of day care centres. And where all the great things that we could have in our cities there are hunks of cement storing hunks of steel.”
Kalanick says there are a myriad of good reasons to allow Uber in Vancouver.
“Your city opens up, people don’t own cars and at the same time we are creating tens of thousands of jobs in the city inside of 18 months. I would say if you want to create jobs, if you don’t like traffic, if you don’t like drunk driving, if you don’t like pollution, then I think Uber is a good solution for Vancouver.
Uber originally arrived in 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 Lotusland market official a few months later, it found a major roadblock had been placed in the way. The B.C. Passenger Transportation Board notified Uber that its service was being classified as a limousine and the minimum rate for limousines is $75 per trip.
Kalanick told the Georgia Straight at that time that regulatory hurdles in Vancouver were some of the most challenging the company had faced.
In Vancouver, where the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board has not issued a new taxi license for more than a quarter-century, the cost of a a taxi medallion (a license to operate a cab) soared to more than $800,000, though there are rumours this number has come off significantly.
Still, a shortage of taxis in Vancouver means passengers here pay more for a cab than in Toronto or Montreal and 73% more for a five kilometre ride than passengers in Washington, D.C.
More recently, there have been signs that Uber may return to Vancouver.
While Uber Canada General Manager Ian Black told me last month at the Cantech Investment Conference in Toronto that the company is talking to various levels of government in British Columbia about a return, it is still facing pushback from at least one city councilor. Geoff Meggs told CBC Radio he has issues with various aspects of the ride-sharing service, including criminal record checks.
Black responded to the CBC that Uber already does that and suggested that Meggs might not be up to speed on the facts.
“There are 60 jurisdictions around North America and the world that have already created ride-sharing regulations,” he said. “All of them include the requirements that were just listed by the councilor, and those are all things that we do already, and would be happy to do in British Columbia. Every Uber driver goes through a background check. Every Uber driver has their vehicle thoroughly inspected.”