Arrival of ride sharing in Whistler remains to be seen 

Local taxi companies unsure of what lies ahead

SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - Ride sharing The push for ride-sharing companies such as Uber is seen by some as a threat to local taxi drivers and service.
  • Shutterstock photo
  • Ride sharing The push for ride-sharing companies such as Uber is seen by some as a threat to local taxi drivers and service.

Recent provincial government spending announcements for the taxi industry to prepare for ride-sharing services are seen — at least by one taxi company owner — as just pre-election spending.

Davinder Maan, owner of Whistler Taxi, said everything seems to be up in the air.

"We think it's all election promises and there's no specifics given to us as to how it's going to be," he said.

In March, the then-provincial government announced:

• An investment of up to $1 million is designed to assist the industry to develop an app for shared dispatch in order to better compete with new services;

• Crash-prevention technology installed in B.C. taxis with an investment from ICBC of up to $3.5 million;

• Streamlined claims processes for the taxi industry;

• A phase-out of current Class 4 licence requirements for taxi drivers.

"We're not getting any clear answers from the ministry (of transportation and infrastructure), so we're all in limbo," said Maan, adding that potentially, anyone who is 19 with a Class 5 licence can drive a taxi with the proposed sharing services.

"We're not happy with it, no doubt about it," he said. "(Government has) said they are working on the framework, but we're not part of that negotiation. It's all happening behind closed doors."

While ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have debuted in other North American cities and may shortly arrive in the Lower Mainland, Maan said Whistler is unique and may prove to be a challenge.

"According to Uber's playbook, you need a population of at least 40,000 to 50,000 to make it viable."

Maan said Uber's model is to flood the market so that anyone can potentially hail a ride within five minutes. But he said the Whistler market already has quick service.

"Anytime you call a cab, the wait is about five minutes," he said.

Ride-sharing services in Vancouver have met stiff opposition from the Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA), which plans to challenge the new services that will undermine current taxi-licence holders.

VTA spokeswoman Carolyn Bauer is reported to have said that the provincial government touts the initiative as creating a level playing field.

"But they're lowering the standards all the way around... the government-proposed method of deregulating the taxi industry is going to destroy the small business and livelihoods of Vancouver Taxi Association owners," Bauer told CBC News in March.

As well, the City of Vancouver has opposed ride-sharing services and enacted a moratorium barring Uber until October of this year.

Said Maan: "We're not opposed to change at all... but it has to be done in a way that protects the investment of current taxi licence holders.

Garri Parhar, of Resort Cabs, said he is waiting to hear more.

"Unless we have more details, it's really hard to comment on anything," he said.

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