Vancouver locals are blessed with the gift of choice when it comes to commuting. The city has several car-sharing options, a robust public transit system, bike-friendly city planning, and a healthy spread of taxi services. Vancouver has also won the award of ‘Canada’s most walkable city’. Vancouver offers no shortage of ways to get around, but opening the ‘regulatory’ gates to ride-hailing services like Uber has been a hot button issue. Ride-hailing services are attractive to urban locals everywhere as they provide the opportunity to monetize a depreciating asset (their car) while also saving commuters money with low cost trips. The Vancouver Taxi Association and taxi-drivers everywhere are so vehemently opposed.
Many of Vancouver’s residents are open to the digital age and the ways it’s changing the way we operate. The fall of the taxi industry would be a standard case of obsolescence, no different from movie stores giving way to Netflix or the death of retail behemoths like Sears to more tech savvy companies like Amazon. Old industries crumble all the time and it is the work of those employed by them to learn new skills and become valuable to the marketplace once more. However, is this capitalist, dog-eat-dog approach itself sustainable? There are sad stories that suggest otherwise.
New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante’s recent article, “A Driver’s Suicide Reveals the Dark Side of the Gig Economy,” explores the under-belly of the free ride-hailing marketplace in New York City. What companies like Uber project as a positive disruption of the industry is wreaking havoc on ordinary lives: “bankruptcies, foreclosures, and eviction notices…homelessness and paralyzing depression.” In one reported case, a man shot himself after writing a Facebook post outlining his hardships in hopes that regulators would take action. One can imagine the devastating blow of having indebted yourself $70,000+ to license and purchase your owner-operated cab only to fall behind on payments because unregulated and inexperienced drivers have taken your clientele.
Another consideration is that many of Metro-Vancouver’s cab drivers are immigrants whose formal education and professional experience are not recognized in Canada. Thus, if the industry were to fall, family breadwinners would be forced again to recollect themselves and pursue a future in a place where visible minorities still struggle to receive equal opportunity.
Beyond Vancouver, Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austin-Texas, Alaska, China, Taiwan and the Northern territory of Australia have all joined the Uber ban(ned) wagon, citing concerns of insufficient insurance, safety protocol, ‘unfair trade practices’, and their culture of sexual harassment (in light of the #metoo movement, their misconduct is much less likely to soon be forgotten).
Ride-hailing is novel idea. But until the challenges are properly addressed, lifting the ban in Vancouver (and elsewhere) will prove uber difficult.
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