Category "Ride-hailing"


TransLink hopes to mitigate effects of subsidy cut for accessible taxis

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Wheelchair-accessible taxis outside Canada Place.

Arlen Redekop / Vancouver Sun

TransLink will do everything it can to make sure its customers with disabilities who use taxis aren’t affected by the Vancouver Taxi Association’s decision to stop subsidies for drivers of accessible taxis, according to its CEO.

HandyDART, a door-to-door shuttle for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, is a service offered by TransLink, and over the last two years about 12 per cent of its rides were provided by taxis. About one per cent of its rides use wheelchair-accessible cabs.

This week, the Vancouver Taxi Association, which represents taxi companies that operate in Vancouver and adjacent municipalities, said it will no longer provide incentives for drivers of accessible vans, such as waiving fees or offering bonuses, because it can no longer afford it now that ride-hailing has entered the Metro Vancouver transportation market.

It said companies will continue to serve customers with disabilities as best they can.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said they are in discussions with the association to find out what the impact might be for HandyDART and TaxiSaver customers.

“We want to do everything, working in close collaboration with the taxi association, to ensure there would be no negative impacts on our customers, so those conversations are ongoing,” Desmond said.

Association spokesperson Carolyn Bauer said on Friday that she did not wish to comment on the decision, but the province is working with taxi companies to figure out how to allocate the 30-cent per-trip fee for non-accessible ride-hailing vehicles to “support a sustained and improved level of accessible vehicles on the road.”

HandyDART Riders’ Alliance co-chair Beth McKellar said she was unsure how HandyDART users would be affected if the subsidies are eliminated and fewer accessible taxis were available, but said TransLink relies too heavily on taxis to supplement service. She was livid at the taxi association’s decision.

“This is so wrong — so, so wrong,” McKellar said. “I’ve just been so disappointed with the whole mess. We get hit hard enough with our afflictions every day, our transportation shouldn’t be at risk.”

According to a recent report on modernizing the taxi industry, accessible vehicles cost more money, time and fuel to acquire and operate.

“When a taxi licence share is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, taxi companies have no difficulty absorbing the higher cost of these vehicles and can offer drivers concessions on their dispatch fees to offset the higher costs of operation,” the report said. “However, if licence values fall, or are already low, finding willing taxi companies and drivers becomes problematic.”

B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang said most of his member companies — which operate outside of Vancouver — offer what he called incentives to drivers of accessible taxis and there is no plan for them to stop doing that.

“We are committed to providing the service to people with disabilities on a priority basis as we did before,” Kang said. “That’s our stance, that’s the association’s stance.”

Justina Loh, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said she understands the position taxi companies are in, but she found it disappointing that it has come to this.

“We’ve been trying to just push the government or the municipalities a bit to step in and maybe provide some incentives for the taxi industry so that they can continue to have an accessible fleet, just because not having one means that people with disabilities are left out,” Loh said.





B.C. ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all

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Many people are eagerly looking forward to ride-hailing finally being available in Metro Vancouver, but Vince Miele is not one of them.

The Tsawwassen resident, who uses a wheelchair, said he and many others who have disabilities and use mobility aids will be left behind when services like Lyft and Uber begin operating, because they will be unusable by those who can’t get in and out of a standard vehicle.

“There’s been a erosion of access for people with disabilities, and I think this move to ride-hailing is just another step in this erosion,” said Miele. “It’s erosion because here’s another mode of transportation that’s being offered, and there’s a segment of the population that won’t be able to take advantage of it. I really feel that it’s a form of discrimination.”

Since last fall, the Passenger Transportation Board has been reviewing applications from ride-hailing companies that want to operate in B.C. To date, only one application — from a company planning to operate in Tofino and Whistler — has been approved.

When services do eventually start operating, ride-hailing drivers will use their personal vehicles, which means that few, if any, rides will be able to accommodate people who are unable to transfer to a vehicle seat or use mobility aids that can’t be easily stowed in a trunk or back seat.

Taxi companies are required to have wheelchair-accessible taxis in their fleet. According to statistics from the Passenger Transportation Board, about 14 per cent of taxis in the province are accessible, and about 19 per cent in Metro Vancouver, though it can still be difficult for people with disabilities to get an accessible cab.

There is no such requirement  for ride-hailing companies.

“It’s quite insulting and disheartening and really makes you question whether our society is moving forward at all with any intention of greater accessibility when we continue to have things being introduced that aren’t accessible,” said Gabrielle Peters, who uses a manual wheelchair.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Transportation, “Drivers of ride-hailing vehicles must take all reasonable steps to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities,” including those with service dogs.

The only nod to “protecting accessibility” in provincial regulations is a 30-cent-a-trip fee for non-accessible ride-hailing vehicles. According to the provincial government, the fee will “support funding for accessibility programs,” but those programs have not been defined.

“We’ll be working on how to allocate these funds once applications are approved, companies start operating, and the per-trip fee revenue is collected,” the Ministry of Transportation said in an emailed statement.

The lack of clarity around how the money will be spent has been criticized.

“There should be a plan, there should be a timetable. Saying that is their mitigation of this is patently ridiculous. It’s an insult to people with disabilities, pure and simple,” said Greg Pyc, who has paraplegia and has used a wheelchair for more than 40 years.

It took the City of Ottawa almost two years to decide how to use the money it raised through the voluntary seven-cent-per-ride accessibility surcharge it implemented in late 2017. It lowered the cost of taxi coupons for people with disabilities, increased the number of coupons allowed per customer, and funded community agencies providing transportation in rural areas.

Toronto just implemented its fee, the proceeds of which will be used to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis.

Some believe a fee is not enough or is the wrong approach altogether.

“Accessibility is a conscious decision to create a society and things within it — systems, ideas, places, services, policies — that include everyone, not a surtax. That’s almost like charity, like tithing. It’s insulting,” said Peters.

Terry Green, chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ transportation committee, said the easiest way for governments to make services accessible is to build requirements into the licensing scheme, as they do with taxis. The reality, he said, is that governments are reluctant to do this for ride-hailing, because ride-hailing drivers use their own vehicles.

“My response is that this is a transportation service that is being offered to the public and it’s supposed to be offered equally to our citizens with disabilities. Consequently, they should be at least, in the spirit of the legislation, required to provide accessibility to the level of other transportation providers,” said Green.

Jutta Treviranus was distressed to hear that B.C. had not written accessibility requirements for people with disabilities into its regulations for ride-hailing, beyond charging the per trip fee.

“This is a human rights issue,” she said.

Treviranus is the director of Toronto’s Inclusive Design Research, and was involved, along with many others, in the development of ride-hailing regulations in Toronto, which include a requirement for companies with more than 500 vehicles to provide wheelchair-accessible service, and for drivers of accessible vehicles to go through training.

She said that without regulations and conditions on licensing, there is no obligation to do anything to make the service accessible. She doesn’t think it’s too late to do better in B.C.

“If Uber is not yet licensed, and they’ve been successful in keeping Uber out of the province, and Uber wants to get in to the province, now is the time to negotiate, and the negotiation should be to get equivalent service,” Treviranus said.

The lack of accessibility is not unique to B.C. Ride-hailing companies have faced backlash, including lawsuits, from people with disabilities and advocates. For instance, Uber has been sued for discrimination in New York and Lyft has been sued in California.

Uber’s head of Western Canada, Michael van Hemmen, was not available for an interview, but in an emailed statement he said when Uber first hits the road in Metro Vancouver, he does not anticipate wheelchair-accessible vehicles being available on the app “because drivers will be using their own vehicles, and most vehicles are not wheelchair accessible.”

However, he said Uber has written to the province to ask for access to revenue from the 30-cent per-trip accessibility fee to make wheelchair-accessible vehicles available on the app.

A Lyft spokesperson said in an emailed statement that accessibility is important to the company, and drivers are required to make every reasonable effort to transport passengers and their wheelchairs.

The two companies have services or features to accommodate people with disabilities — Uber has WAV and Assist, while Lyft has “Access Mode” — however, they’re not available in all markets.

Vince Miele with his vehicle, which is modified for wheelchair access.







Thousands of ride-hailing drivers ready to hit the roads in B.C.

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Austin Zhang is CEO of Gokabu, which runs the Chinese language ride-hailing platform Kabu.

Francis Georgian / PNG

Thousands of ride-hailing drivers are set to hit the streets of Metro Vancouver when companies are permitted to begin operating in the next few weeks.

No fewer than 19 ride-hailing platforms are being vetted by the Passenger Transportation Board, some with hundreds of drivers already qualified to work.

The Chinese-language Kabu Ride app was disabled in September to avoid operating illegally after legislation passed enabling legal ride-hailing.

But Richmond-based Gokabu Group had been operating Kabu Ride in the “grey space” for more than three years with hundreds of drivers pulling in more than $10 million a year combined, said company spokesman Martin van den Hemel.

They began encouraging drivers to get their Class 4 drivers licence months ago and secured affordable training with local driving schools to ensure they would have a small army of drivers ready to work under new provincial rules.

Kabu Ride has “hundreds of qualified drivers” who have been through Kabu training, obtained a commercial driver’s licence and secured all the documentation required by the transportation board, said CEO Auston Zhang. “We’ve got many more taking their knowledge test to obtain a Class 4 learner’s licence.”

The vast majority of Kabu Ride drivers are men, but the company is encouraging female applicants.

“We have stay-at-home moms who work for two or three hours a day while their kids are in school,” said Hemel. “We also have drivers who work 50 hours a week and make north of $65,000 a year.”

Lyft is operating two driver hubs in Metro Vancouver — with a third on the way — to recruit and educate potential drivers about the documentation needed before they can participate in ride-hailing.

To drive for a ride-hailing service, you must possess a Class 1, 2 or 4 drivers licence, produce a commercial driving record, obtain a criminal record check and your vehicle must pass a commercial vehicle inspection.

More than 600 people have attended Lyft information sessions in Vancouver, Surrey and Langley, the company said.

Lyft driver Met Yi Su likes the flexibility that gig driving offers, to work around his main job.

“I’m a project manager for a mining organization, which has me working in the field around six months of the year,” he said. “What attracts me to driving with Lyft is the option to do it anytime I want. My wife stays home with the kids, and I can do ridesharing as needed.”

Uber is encouraging potential drivers to use its online guide to get through the qualification process and “be ready to drive in the next few weeks.”

The ride-hailing giant has started distributing Uber decals to its qualified “driver partners” to display once the transportation board approves its transportation network service licence.

Edmonton’s TappCar also has plans to serve Metro Vancouver along with smaller cities in B.C.

It is difficult to know exactly how many drivers will be in the field because some are likely to be active on more than one platform, but other Canadian cities are recording tens of thousands of trips a day.

Based on data from Calgary, the City of Vancouver conservatively estimates 500 to 1,000 ride-hailing vehicles will operate in the “metro core,” compared with about 800 licensed taxis, according to a response to a freedom of information request.

On average, drivers in Calgary worked 10 hours a week and made 2.5 trips an hour. But that’s only part of the picture.

Ride-hailing firms reported more than four million trips in Calgary last year, according to a presentation to the International Association of Transportation regulators.

That’s almost 11,000 trips a day serving a population about half of Metro Vancouver’s 2.5 million residents. Mississauga ride-hailing drivers logged 10 million trips in 2018 — 27,300 trips a day — with a population of less than one million.

Most of that is new business. Ride-hailing trips appeared to have a relatively modest effect on the volume of taxi trips in those markets.

Kabu Ride is a platform with uniquely local roots and an impressive growth record.

Zhang and Gokabu president Billy Xiong had originally conceived their platform as a social media app for foreign students, but quickly changed their business model when they noticed that users were organizing rides around the city.

The company has 60 full time employees and about 25 part time staff. The company also offers subsidized health and disability benefits, through The Cooperators, to “driver partners” who work enough to qualify.

While their ride-hailing service is suspended, some drivers are still active on the food delivery platform, Kabu Eats.



Climate top-of-agenda on last day of Union of B.C. Municipalities conference

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Premier John Horgan on the Rural Dividend Fund: “I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid I always wanted everything right now too and I ended up turning out OK even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted.”

Jason Payne / PNG

Climate change was top-of-mind for delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference, who passed a series of resolutions calling for everything from more government action on the climate emergency and stopping subsidies to fossil-fuel companies, to investments in low-emission transportation.

“The work that UBCM has been doing when it comes to climate change is really, really provocative, and I think at this time when we see tens-of-thousands — in fact millions — of people coming together, mostly young people, it’s great to see leadership like that at the local government level,” Premier John Horgan said after his closing address at the convention Friday.

However, delegates decided not to urge the province to come up with legislation that holds fossil-fuel companies financially liable for climate-related harms, with some calling it divisive and asking instead for politicians to work together.

A resolution asking the UBCM to look at a class-action lawsuit on behalf of members to recover costs arising from climate-change from fossil-fuel companies was withdrawn because a Vancouver lawyer is preparing a legal opinion with options for local governments free-of-charge.

With ride-hailing vehicles expected to hit the road before the end of the year delegates decided against urging the UBCM to oppose the Passenger Transportation Board’s ride-hailing policies and ask for consultation about licensing requirements. The resolution was narrowly defeated, with 51.7 per cent opposed.

White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, whose city put forward the late resolution, said they’re not opposed to ride-hailing.

“It has to be a level playing field,” he said. “The taxi industry has been around a long, long time and done a wonderful service to communities throughout the province.”

However, a resolution that asks the province to come up with rules that make it easier to establish ride-hailing in small rural and remote communities — as well as other communities outside of the Lower Mainland — passed.

Enderby Coun. Brian Schreiner said his small city and others like it that don’t have taxis or transit would benefit from ride-hailing, but restrictions like the requirement for drivers to have a Class 4 licence will get in the way.

“We’re just looking for a level playing field for small communities to get involved with ride-sharing,” Schreiner said. “Yes, we do want it to be safe … but we just want to be able to get into the process.”

A last-minute resolution asked the UBCM to have the province reconsider its decision to divert $25 million from the Rural Dividend Fund to help communities affected by the mill closures and curtailments. It asked for the government to find another source of funding.

“We polled and talked to people right straight across B.C. and this was identified over-and-over again because small rural and remote and Indigenous communities cannot get dollars for their projects,” said Grace McGregor, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary director.

After the conference, Horgan said the money was reallocated because it was available and there was an urgent need. He reiterated that the program will continue at a later date.

“I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid I always wanted everything right now too and I ended up turning out OK even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted,” he said.

Delegates decided against asking the province to consider eliminating or reducing fines for those under age 18, and looking at restorative justice or community service for settling fare infractions by low-income people. However, they did endorse a call for free or further subsidized transit passes for those on income or disability assistance.

A late resolution from the City of Port Coquitlam asking the UBCM to end its practice of accepting sponsorship and facilitating receptions from foreign governments was referred to the union executive.




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