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Uber, Lyft given green-light in Metro Vancouver, but is that a good thing?

Last Updated Jan 24, 2020 at 8:53 am PDT

FILE - The Uber App is pictured on a smartphone in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, December 30, 2019. British Columbia's Passenger Transportation Board has granted long-awaited licensing approvals to ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft for service in the Lower Mainland and Whistler. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Expert says Uber has created problems for other cities it operates in, as Lower Mainland eagerly awaits its roll out

Uber, Lyft received approval from the PTB on Thursday; Uber says it'll be running in Vancouver by 11:00 a.m. Friday

All the red tape B.C. has around ride-hailing may give Uber, Lyft a better chance of success, expert says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The day is finally here: Long-awaited ride-hailing is set to roll into Vancouver Friday morning.

Originally, Uber announced its drivers would hit the road at 11:00 a.m., but following an 8:00 a.m. Lyft news conference, both companies went live in the Metro Vancouver region.

While you or your friends may be celebrating, one expert notes ride-hailing has brought with it a number of problems to other cities.

“Uber has a very mixed record, and it’s transformed cities not always for the better,” explains Matti Siemiatycki, interim director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. “When it comes to traffic, many cities have allowed Uber to come in and not put a regulation on how many vehicles are on the roads. And what we’ve seen is that many of the trips are in the downtown core, and in a lot of cities — particularly in the United States — traffic has actually increased, not decreased.”

He says the main reason for that is trips being taken are often quite short, and commuters are actually foregoing transit, their bikes, or walking to catch a lift.

And as taxi drivers and companies may have feared, Siemiatycki says that industry has taken a hit in places like Toronto, where he explains competitive prices with Uber can’t be matched by cabs.

“They can fluctuate and they’re unregulated,” he tells NEWS 1130. “And it’s decimated the value of the permits, the medallions, in many cities. So it’s really had a substantial impact on the taxi industry.”

Siemiatycki also points out that Uber, currently, “is not profitable.”

“Part of the way people are getting low-cost rides is because Uber’s shareholders are subsidizing them, in the hope that, in the future, they’ll get to profitability,” he adds, saying that model won’t be sustainable long-term if the company doesn’t get to profitability.

Safety has been flagged as an issue by cities as well as some riders themselves, and Siemiatycki says, in fact, it’s been a big problem in a number of ways. He says drivers, in many places Uber is allowed to operate, aren’t required to have any special training or licensing like taxi drivers do. There have also been a number of reports of sexual harassment and assaults taking place in ride-hails in the past.

The good news, Siemiatycki points out, is that B.C. is doing things differently. All that red tape the province has around ride-hailing may even give Uber and Lyft a better chance of success, he says.

“It’s been much more managed than in other places, and because you’ve seen the experiences of elsewhere, you’ve been able to learn and put regulations and policies in place to try and alleviate some of the worst dynamics of [ride-hailing],” he explains.

Ride-hailing, which Britich Columbians have been demanding for years, is widely available in most major cities around the world. While the Passenger Transportation Board approved the first ride-hailing service last month, there’s been no company actually operating in B.C. as of yet.

Meanwhile, many have taken to social media to express how elated they are the service is coming to town, not everyone is quite as happy.

Some people have said things like, “Well, I’m never taking a taxi again,” but others are pointing to holes in the approval.

One point of contention is the area of service. Uber has been approved to serve the Lower Mainland, for the time being, but it’ll only be driving in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and parts of Delta and Surrey.

People in Tsawwassen have been lamenting online, feeling a little left out, one person even asking, “So, they won’t be servicing the ferry terminal either?”

And since only the City of Vancouver has issued business licences for Uber and Lyft, only trips originating within the city limits are available for now, although people can be dropped off in surrounding cities. A regional ride-hailing license is expected to be set up over the next several weeks after the TransLink Mayors’ Council voted in favour of it.

Ride-hailing drivers are required in B.C. to have a Class 4 license — the same as taxi drivers.

Uber and Lyft were given the green light to operate in the Lower Mainland and Whistler on Thursday.