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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘taxi’ Category

Uber seeks to return to Vancouver

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I’m sorry that this story comes from a paywalled site. The Globe and Mail reports that Uber has had a meeting with Councillor Geoff Meggs who “said there will be a motion to council this week to freeze the status quo for six months while staff study the issues – past the election in November.” He also acknowledged that this will have to be treated as a regional issue even though “each municipality in the Lower Mainland has its own rules on taxis.”

Mohan Khang of the BC Taxi Association knows he can rely on the Passenger Transportation Board. They turned Uber down two years ago and are highly unlikely to do any different next time. Why? The PTB actually controls who can have a taxi license, even though they are issued by municipalities.

Section 28(1) of the Passenger Transportation Act states that the Board may approve an application if the Board considers that

  • (a)    there is a public need for the service the applicant proposes to provide under any special authorization,

  • (b)    the applicant is a fit and proper person to provide that service and is capable of providing that service, and

  • (c)    the application, if granted, would promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia.

So it actually does not matter what any one city decides to do. The provision to “promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia” means that the established taxi operators’ interest overrule any and all other considerations. Uber could indeed try to satisfy the requirements that there is a need – simply on the grounds that there are fewer taxis here per thousand population than anywhere else in Canada. They could also show that they are working in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto. All the BCTA has to do is point to the impact services like Uber and Lyft have had in cities in San Francisco – where taxi use was more than halved – and the PTB will be obliged to reach the same decision as it did last time.

It has become something of a truism that regulators become the client of the industry they are set up to regulate. That is demonstrably the case with the National Energy Board and the oil industry. While other places have sought to deregulate taxis or to operate on the basis that the public interest in plentiful, affordable and convenient access to mobility services is more important than the survival of existing providers, that has not happened yet in BC. It is not likely to change any time soon.

The people who drive taxis are not the people who drive the industry or the PTB. The people who make significant amounts of money from taxis are those who own licenses. Although these are issued by government they can be traded on the market, and thus, due to their scarcity, acquire significant value. The man (and it is usually a man) driving the cab has to rent the license from its owner. He also has to rent the cab and pay for its fuel, maintenance and access to the dispatch system. A cab driver does not start to earn any money until he is at least halfway into his shift and even then will be very fortunate to clear more than minimum wage. He will do better if his cab also has the even rarer YVR permit – which also means the taxi has to be licensed in Richmond as well of the municipality where it is based.

So for Uber – or anyone else – the task is to get the legislation changed. And while there might well be many people who would like to see that, the people who control the industry also have considerable political weight, not just because they are contributors to party funds but also because they claim that they can deliver votes from the people and communities that rely on employment in the industry. So far as I am aware, no politician in BC has ever tried to test the validity of that claim.

The virtues – or otherwise – of Uber do not matter. The public need for greater access to demand responsive transportation does not matter. Political power is what matters. Geoff Meggs can have as many meetings and as much research as he cares to commission. It will not make any difference to the outcome.


I have now seen another post on the same issue from The Georgia Straight – which, of course, isn’t paywalled

The issue of taxi licensing in Greater Vancouver and a possible solution is presented by Ben Proctor in his recent (April 2104) Masters of Public Policy Thesis at SFU. I am indebted to Neil Salmond for this link. The research confirms what I have been saying on this topic. His proposed solution is practical but still requires a politician with considerable courage and willingness to take on a powerful and deeply entrenched private interest group. Both John Horgan of the NDP and Todd Stone in their recent comments regarding Uber show that neither has any intention of changing the present arrangements.

The real issue is that taxis are expensive and not as readily available as needed. Licence owners make a lot of money. Taxi drivers very little – but carry all the risk. Uber ought to be a better system but isn’t. Once again the drivers take all the risk, the company all the profit. Lots of seats in cars are empty: average occupancy of the cars on the road is around 1.4. Most cars are only in use for an hour or so each day. Much of the fleet sits idle most of the time. There are clearly opportunities to make better use of the resources tied up in private cars. The PTB and Uber are both significant blockages on the path to progress towards better, more efficient personal mobility.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Losing Taxi Savers Program Will ‘Clip Wings’, Say Users

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The Tyee has a very good summary of the users’ case for retaining the TaxiSaver program.

I am not going to repeat what is in that article. As usual I refrain from stating the case that needs to be made by others – especially when they have been so eloquent. But where I feel my experience or knowledge add something I will chime in. And what made me react was this sentence

When the Taxi Saver cuts were first announced, TransLink indicated it was a budgetary decision that would save over a million dollars. More recently, TransLink has stated that money saved by cutting Taxi Savers would be re-deployed to finance improved HandyDart services.

When I was employed by TransLink I was expected to examine the whole range of services to people with disabilities – mostly because as the economist I was expected to provide some professional advice on things which on a per passenger ride basis were extremely expensive. TaxiSavers were indeed introduced to increase mobility – but that was because the system itself was overburdened from the start – and always will be. The people who act as “gatekeepers” and certify that someone needs special assistance have no interest at all to save Translink – or the taxpayer – money. They meet the needs of their clientele. As they should. Other systems, like Calgary, have a much more stringent approach to determining eligibility, but that reflects a different kind of organization. There the City provides both transit and social assistance of various kinds: that is not the case with Translink.

TaxiSavers halve the cost of a taxi ride for users. But they also greatly reduce the cost of the same ride compared to what it would cost Translink if it were obliged to deliver service using its own equipment. Transit is rationed here – mostly by the location of where people live. In fact people with disabilities who qualify for handDART and live in the outer suburbs may even enjoy more transit access than their neighbours who have no disability. But handyDART is rationed by trip purpose. Because there is so much demand, and trips must be booked in advance, trips for school, work or medical reasons take precedence. In reality that means that any trip outside those classes doesn’t get booked. Taxi Savers allow people to make trips at short notice and for any purpose at all. There is also no need to see if the trip can be shared with others.

I think that the Taxi Saver program saved Translink a great deal, since it removed a lot of pressure to improve the shared ride, pre-booked system. There is an equity (or “human rights”) argument: imagine waiting in line for the #99 – but having to persuade an official before being allowed to board that your trip purpose fitted some predetermined category. Imagine further that you have some of the problems of aging or limited intellectual capacity – or are too principled to game the system. That is the situation that HandyDart users face everyday. It would be intolerable if it applied to the population as a whole, but somehow it is acceptable when applied to an identifiable minority. Who are supposed to be protected by legislation. And the Charter.

The claim that the savings will go to improve service are sophistry – since the trips people make with TaxiSavers do not qualify for those prebooked trips which are always oversubscribed.

But the Translink Board now is not accountable. Local politicians would never have dared have made this decision. But an appointed Board can have no conscience – it simply follows the mandate it has been given. The problem we have now is we are ruled by a bunch of politicians who think cutting taxes and public spending is always the right answer to every problem. And who believe that the way to achieve that is to cut service no matter what the consequences. So we have cut environmental protection – and people can set their drinking water alight. We have reduced all those “frills” in education like special needs assistants and librarians, and we wonder why our children now cannot find employment. In the US the Republicans have just cut federal funds to walking and cycling programs: they are the same people who decry the increase in demand for health services, because they are so expensive. In Britain, public transport was deregulated and most of the subsidies eliminated. Not long afterwards we started reading about a new problem – social exclusion. That is not a phrase we have heard much here. Expect to hear it more often in future.

UPDATE  1pm Wednesday 11 July Outcry forces TransLink to Reverse Decision on the TaxiSaver program  Vancouver Sun



Written by Stephen Rees

July 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

Posted in disability, taxi, transit

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Metro needs more taxis

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The Province

Metro Vancouver is getting in on the act.

a recent report by Metro Vancouver staff shows that the taxi service level in this region averages one cab per 1,523 people.

Compare that to the average of one cab for every 930 people in large North American urban centres, one cab for every 709 people in Calgary or one cab for every 540 people in Toronto.

Toronto actually tackled issue of taxi licensing head on and created a lot more of them. That is why there are now more cabs there.

Gord Robson [Mayor] of Maple Ridge, has called for a major review of Metro Vancouver’ cab industry.

That led to a decision on Friday by Metro Vancouver to initiate a study on transferring licensing jurisdiction of our cab companies from the B.C. government to TransLink.

But Translink is now directly controlled by the Province. They appoint the Board – and are qualified solely in terms of the business experience. So they are unlikely to be any more sympathetic to public concerns then the vested interests of the business people who have invested a lot of money in securing one of the currently rare licenses. And why would the province scrap the Passenger Transport Board – which it could have done when it reformed the Motor Carrier Commission. Is it really defensible that Metro Vancouver have a different system of taxi licensing than the rest of the Province? If Maple Ridge – why not Abbotsford?

If you have not been here before the subject of taxis has been covered (just click the taxi link under categories). I will be very surprised indeed if the present government listed to Metro. I would even more suprised if any new taxi controlling organisation was more responsive to public needs than entrenched, politically well connected, taxi license holders.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 8, 2008 at 12:31 pm

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Taking taxis not easy for visitors to Vancouver

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Vancouver Sun

Last year, Kevin Falcon was inconvenienced when a taxi refused to take him to Surrey. So he brought in the taxi passengers “charter of rights” which obliges taxi drivers to do what they have always been obliged to do under the law. Which has made not the slightest difference to anything.

Now Kevin seemingly has not had time to take a cruise this year, so presumably he is unaware of the two hour waits that those poor unfortunates have been forced to endure at the cruise ship terminals. So both (port CEO) Gordon Houston and (Mayor) Sam Sullivan are trying to put the pressure on the provincial Passenger Transport Board to increase the number of taxi licenses.

This is not a new issue by any means – at least ten years to my direct knowledge, and actually much longer as the records of the PTB and its predecessor the MCC will show. And there is no mention of that in this short piece. So there is no analysis here of why this situation has arisen or why it persists, or indeed what the impact is on people, who live here all the time and are not just passing through but have too much luggage to use an airport shuttle bus.

Taxis are actually used by people who cannot drive – often for a combination of physical as well as economic issues. They are very important to people with disabilities, who have to use them simply because handyDART is so inadequate. People on low incomes who cannot afford a car will often use a taxi to help bring home the weekly groceries. So taxis are not just the preserve of the wealthy, the business travellers at the airport or the late night drunks who are sufficiently compos mentis not to drive themselves home.

The reason why more licenses are not issued is that existing licences have a high market value – simply because they are in short supply. Often the license holder no longer needs to drive a taxi (an uncertain source of income at best) because they make so much from renting out their licences. And this group is very well connected politically, and the legislation under which taxis operate has always favoured them. Issuing more licences would devalue the existing ones, and that is an economic impact that the licensing scheme is designed to protect. And despite a long history of studies, nothing much is going to change, as long as some key constituencies depend on the ability of some groups to turn out the vote. That is a political reality that never gets mentioned in any of the reports produced on the topic, because it is too difficult for any politician to tackle head on.

There are a number of solutions – deregulation being the least likely and most disruptive. The one I favour and have argued for is the London solution. But because it is unique to London, no one else wants to try it. London black cabs are heavily regulated – but their numbers are not limited. Taxi drivers have to pass a very stiff test – it usually takes two years to qualify. And the taxis themselves have to meet very stringent standards. Fares are also regulated. But once you have a license and a licensed cab, you decide when you work. So the number on the street fluctuates, and after a while tends to reflect predictable changes in demand. It still means though that you cannot get a cab if it is raining or when the shifts change mid afternoon. And there is a now regulated but less stringent hire car license (also known as mini cabs) which tend to serve the suburbs, as wall as specific services for the disabled (although every back cab is also accessible).

Chances of something changing in time for the next cruise ship season? None. There is an election coming up which looks like it will be a close run thing. Not the time for basic reforms in politically sensitive areas. Maybe a few more licenses for vans – which while they look like they are for wheelchairs spend most of their time shuttling between the airport and the cruise ship terminal. The tips are better.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Posted in taxi

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Ray Lam Calls for a Sustainable Transportation Mix

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I may not be as famous as Rebecca Bollwit, but a lot of people I have never heard of do put things in my in box.

And in this case it looks like a young man who is running under the Vision banner in Vancouver has at least been thinking about what needs to be done to make alternatives to driving more attractive. Of course, for a Vancouver City Councilor to pontificate about these issues is not new. And as the current Mayor has discovered, there actually is very little the City can do in the area of transit (as Ray Lam acknowledges). But some of these ideas – like cutting down on on-street parking to make room for bus lanes or bike lanes seem very courageous. (You will no doubt recall Sir Humphrey saying to Jim Hacker, “Time for an Act of Political Courage, Minister!”)

It will be interesting to hear if any of the mainstream media pick up on this press release, and I trust you will understand if I put in a caveat. Just because I am giving this some space does not mean I endorse all or any of it. But I do like to see fresh ideas and young minds in this arena – of only because they have yet to become as jaded and cynical as I am.

For a reality check – the city does licence taxis (but taxis are regulated by the province too) controls bus shelters and other street furniture (and their current contractor also operates velolib in Paris in return for an exclusive on their billboards) and can do quite a lot about on street space (but has to listen to the DVBIA, the BoT, CofC, not to mention Linda Meinhardt) and the public realm in general. As for the rest – the Province has the power.

(VANCOUVER, BC) Ray Lam unveils his ideas to create sustainable transportation as a commitment to Vancouver.

A major concern in the city is the rapid increase of transit riders as a result of the UPass program at UBC and SFU, and a rising fear this coming fall is of the implications of its expansion to other post secondary institutes. Lam says “generating a larger ridership is brilliant if we have the infrastructure for it, but we don’t” pointing the finger at the over-crowded buses, and the large groups of people left behind at bus stops.

Even the most avid transit user has to admit that single occupancy vehicles (SOV) are sometimes necessary for day trips or large-volume shopping. Lam suggests that “the city needs to reevaluate what is considered ‘public transportation’” and calls for a more diverse “transportation-portfolio.”, making it easier for Vancouverites to give up their cars and commit to sustainable travel.

This is a bold plan requiring buy-in from the public and private stakeholders to ensure that we include residents with differing lifestyles.

A New Transportation Mix

The City of Vancouver has little to no say on issues such as busses or fares. Lam wants to see a broader transportation portfolio in Vancouver to compliment the transit system. “The city needs to investigate new methods of providing residents with options for sustainable travel” Lam wants to investigate a municipal mobility program to ensure that such amenities are extended to all residents. The goal is to create “a municipal program that expands on the one-zone bus pass [travel within Vancouver] to include access to bike and car co-ops, as well as preferential parking near transit arteries for car and van pools – to minimize SOV use.”

Currently, private businesses and corporations offer incentives for employees to travel sustainably – car and bicycle co-ops, carpooling, and transit discounts; these include UBC, which offers bicycle co-ops for students, preferential parking for HOVs, and discounted bus fares. “These proven sustainable transportation initiatives can’t stay trade-secrets of the corporate world” says Lam. “We need to ensure that what we know to work, works for our citizens”

Lam’s concept of the municipal program is inspired by the idea of pay-per-use bicycle programs in Paris, Lyon, and Dublin, as well as the TMoney pass in Seoul, Korea that includes subways, busses, taxis, and other transportation services. “I want a city that shows residents that we care about their lifestyles, encouraging them to seek means of sustainable transportation”. Lam wants to see “public services that serve everyone”, saying “if you need to get to work or school, take the bus; if you are a cyclist, use a pay-per-use bicycle; and if you need a vehicle just for the day, borrow one.” This multi-modal approach will have the broadest possible appeal, and unifying it under a single pass will make transitioning between services as seamless as possible.

In addition, Lam wants to investigate the reduction of road-side parking to create HOV and transit lanes to encourage carpooling, speed up transit, and create safer lanes for cyclists. Lam says “the trend of single occupancy vehicles is fading, and the city needs to be one step ahead to ensure that Vancouver’s infrastructure will support higher occupancy vehicles and bicycles”. Lam wants to tackle this early to ensure that the growing reliance on public transportation is not discouraged by slow busses crawling through traffic. “Vancouver and its services need to meet residents where they live and take them where they are going; we need to mould our services to complement the lives of Vancouverites, rather than asking them to change their lifestyles to accommodate the city’s inadequacies.”

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm

The Solar Taxi

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Guy Dauncey writes in Common Ground about a Swiss teacher who has been driving around the world in a small electric vehcile with a bunch of sloar panels on a trailer. His name is Louis Palmer and he was in Vancouver in early July. Like me you will probably have missed him. The major media, of course, failed to notice. But you can follow his progress on his own web page.

I will leave the last word to Guy

The moral of this story is that you don’t need to be a genius to invent the future and help save the world. You just need to believe in your dreams, and when it comes to the details, ask other people for help.

And there is more about why electric vehciles are important on the Alernet

Written by Stephen Rees

August 2, 2008 at 11:15 am

Ford tries out European sized taxi in New York

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There are three stories I found on this vehicle, but the one in Wired is the most informative. They both have the same theme – that America is going to need smaller more fuel efficient taxis. I imagine one of the reason that Ford can lay claim to the largest maker of North American taxis is that it is now the last maker of “full size” cars – the Crown Victoria favoured by police forces and cab drivers. But of course here we have been seeing much smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles used as taxis for some time. I think the most common now are either the Prius or other Toyoya models for those who could not wait for a Prius to be delivered (though the wait now is down to under three months).

But this being one of the Big Three they still do not seem able to move very fast. This is a vehicle that has been on the road in the UK for five years but it was shown as a “concept” that might be released next year some time.

It uses a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine linked to an automatic transmission, and Ford claims that it has 90 per cent lower tailpipe emissions than the average American taxi.

So it is not exactly leading edge technology then, is it. No wonder more agile players in the auto industry are now eating Ford’s lunch. Or does the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission have a “buy domestic” requirement?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 19, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Posted in taxi