The typical ride home for Vancouverites out on the town is likely transit or taxis. But for those looking for a luxurious ride, there are the lesser-known private sedan drivers.
Now a San Francisco-based mobile app company, Uber, is looking to connect those private drivers to customers in Vancouver. But it’s also hit a bump in the road. Customers can sign on to Uber’s app on their smartphone, see available drivers in the area who have an operating license and book the vehicle. All payment exchange and tipping is done through the app.
Andrew MacDonald, Uber Vancouver general manager, says the company offers access to a service that takes care of “a whole new set of customers,” those looking for a shorter luxury ride rather than current taxi and limo services.
“We grow the industry. We make it a more attractive place for people to play in,” he said.
But in B.C., the provincially regulated minimum charge for sedan limo services is $75 for one hour. Uber’s minimum fare in most of the 20 cities across North America in which it operates is $15 for its shorter length trips. That lower pricing is offered in Toronto as well.
Jan Broocke, director of the Passenger Transportation Board of B.C. which regulates fees, says $75 is the rate all sedan limos are charged in B.C. The pricing was decided in July 2011 and agreed upon by the limo industry.
MacDonald said Uber has received a warning from the board that drivers and companies who use their system to find customers must charge the $75 base fee, regardless of length of trip. The company had started up a trial “Secret Uber” service in Vancouver in recent weeks.
MacDonald called the minimum pricing model “anti-consumer” and said it “crushes innovation.” “The reason they’re doing that is to protect the existing companies in place,” he said. “Taxi companies who are worried about their market being infringed on, and large limousine companies who are not partnered with Uber and want their high prices justified.”
MacDonald said Uber hopes it can convince the government to change its fee policy to allow it to operate in the market.
Broocke said the transpiration board uses an application driven process and considers public need for a service. She said it also considers if an application will provide sound economic conditions in the transportation industry. “Services evolve,” she said. “Ten years ago there weren’t any sedan limousines in the province and now there are quite a few.”
If the pricing model doesn’t change, MacDonald said operating in Vancouver would be challenging. At least one of his customers agrees. Chris Richardson is a Vancouverite who tried the trial version of Uber. Though he said he liked the service, he wasn’t thrilled about the new price of $75. “How does it affect me? It means I’m not going to use it anymore,” said Richardson. “How will it affect Uber? It means nobody is going to use their service anymore.”