New mobile app to call cabs throws another curve into Vancouver’s Taxiland

Taxi and limousine regulators right across North America are throwing the book at Uber, a new mobile phone app for hailing cabs, and British Columbia is no exception.

Vancouver limousine companies are required by the Passenger Transportation Board to charge a minimum $75 a trip. Now the PTB has ordered Uber  to do the same.

The enforcement order effectively torpedoed Uber, according to media reports, because it had been pricing its trips somewhere between a taxi and a limousine. (Uber claims all its drivers are appropriately licensed.)

The PTB action came on the heels of an earlier ruling that turned the regional taxi system upside down by allowing certain suburban firms to pick up passengers in the Granville Entertainment District on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Vancouver’s four taxi firms, which were also granted the right to deploy additional cabs in the GED on event nights, were stunned by the approval for suburban cabs.

They were then stunned a second time by a PTB declaration that the GED covered half the downtown core, a wide open door for suburban cabs to expand their business further. Throwing Uber into the mix was yet another curveball, one the PTB is trying to knock down.

Council united last week to ask staff for a full report on the changes. The PTB is required to balance the need for good service with the need to ensure a reasonable rate of return for taxi companies.Wide open service may sound good for passengers, but deregulation has never produced the right balance. That’s why regulation is in place around the world.

Uber is just the latest arrival in the complex, contradictory industry that fans call Taxiland. It’s thrown a new curve into the mix, one the PTB is trying to manage.

The solution may have to come from the industry itself — a mobile app that builds on existing dispatch systems for existing drivers and their cabs, both of which are already regulated to ensure quality and safety for customers.