Massive “disruption” of taxi sector already under way, but Victoria no closer to ride-sharing response

taxiThe Board of Trade’s appeal to Victoria to develop a comprehensive policy for ride-sharing — echoing a similar call from Vancouver city council last fall — makes the completely erroneous claim that shares in taxi companies sell for “thousands of times” the cost of a permit.

In fact, the “disruption” of the taxi industry is already well under way, with more than 100 shares in taxi firms for sale in Vancouver alone. Almost none have sold for more than year, thanks to uncertainty about the future of the industry, making them effectively worthless.

The threat of “disruption” has vaporized the equity of hundreds of taxi owners, destabilizing an industry that provides key public services and thousands of jobs.

Normally, the Board of Trade would deplore such liquidation of business assets — which support thousands of owners and drivers — due to government inaction or regulation. Not this time. The Board wants a complete overhaul of the sector, with ride-sharing added to a regional system of expanded taxi service and complains that “vested interests” in the taxi industry stand in the way.

Uber first put its toe in the Vancouver market in 2012, then withdrew in the face of Passenger Transportation Board regulations. This is not a new issue, but Peter Fassbender, the cabinet minister now in charge of finding a solution, is promising a slow, pragmatic approach with no deadline for action.

Transport Minister Todd Stone recently said “we want to make sure any changes that are considered, first and foremost take into consideration the investments that have been made in existing industries, the jobs – the hundreds if not thousands of jobs that exist around the province in the industry today – and balance that with other ideas and new technologies that are emerging.”

This is a refreshing approach, but much of the damage is already done. That’s why people like Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is warning the Quebec government it should compensate taxi drivers, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, if it wipes out their businesses by opening up to ride-sharing. Even Quebec entrepreneurs hoping to offer ride-sharing agree with this proposal.

Let’s hope Victoria focuses on a solution that restores stability to the taxi sector, which is calling on Victoria to issue nearly 200 additional licences in Vancouver alone, while adding the power of ride-sharing. That would save thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in compensation claims.