4 lessons from Alberta on how to implement ride-hailing in Vancouver

4 lessons from Alberta on how to implement ride-hailing in Vancouver

Metro Vancouver is currently the largest metropolitan area in North America without a ride-hailing service — but it won't be for long.

On Tuesday, the province announced sweeping new regulations that will allow ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in B.C. as soon as December 2017.

It's a divisive move, with critics like Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs saying the province has lowered its safety standards. The Vancouver Taxi Association says it plans to fight the new regulations in court.

Despite dissent, ride-hailing seems like it's finally on its way to the Lower Mainland. But Vancouver is far from the first Canadian city to have to deal with the growing pains of a private transportation shakeup. What can we in Vancouver learn from our neighbours to the east about how to successfully implement ride hailing?

1. Protect your citizens

One of the main arguments of ride-hailing critics is the lack of safety oversight compared to traditional taxis. That's why it was critical for the city of Calgary — which initially won an injunction to prevent Uber from operating in 2015 — to insist on proper driver insurance and licensing, regular vehicle inspections and background checks performed by Calgary police.

Calgary Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says the city gave Uber leeway on things like fee structures, but took a hard line negotiating stance on safety.

"What we basically told them was, look, we understand what you guys are doing. We understand that this is disruptive technology," Carra said.

"But we're here to ensure public safety, so we insist on a number of criteria."

2. Consider the state of your cab industry

Despite complaints from the taxi industry and a few political snafus, Calgary Coun. Evan Woolley said the arrival of Uber in the city has actually helped shake up a fossilized, ineffective taxi system.

"It was not a good thing," Woolley said. "It protected a lot of the big brokerages and license holders, and there were big problems."

Woolley says ride-hailing has created room for much-needed competition that, in many cases, actually improves conditions for cab drivers, even if the big companies take a hit.

Carra agrees with that assessment.

"Take a look at what your job is as a municipality," he said. "Is it to protect the taxi companies, to protect the industry as it currently exists? Or is it to ensure public safety? And act accordingly."

3. Recoup your costs

While thorough regulations are important, Woolley says, they aren't free. He says Calgary negotiated a hybrid flat and per-trip fee that ride-hailing companies must "pay to play." That fee goes toward paying for all of the extra safety work the city does.

"This is a service that makes your city better," Woolley said. "[But] you need to ensure that you're getting cost recovery. Any administrative costs need to be covered off."

4. Expect turmoil

In early 2016, Edmonton became the first Canadian city to expressly allow the operation of ride-hailing companies. Mike Chong, the city's acting program manager for business licensing and vehicles for hire, says things are operating smoothly a year later, but it's taken a lot of back and forth to get there.

Edmonton actually beat the provincial government of Alberta in announcing regulations, which Chong said caused a number of issues when the province began requiring different things, such as commercial plates.

But it's not all bad — Chong says the arrival of ride-hailing is an opportunity to challenge to the status quo.

"It's initiated conversations about how to work on improving our bylaws, but that's not always a bad thing," Chong said.

"Understand that [whatever regulations you implement] will continue to evolve," Chong said. "Things may not be perfect on the first go around, but that doesn't mean that things can't improve in the future."