The bulk of taxi drivers in Metro Vancouver have fled to companies like Uber and Lyft while ridership has plummeted since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Vancouver Taxi Association.
About 90 per cent of drivers under the VTA umbrella, an association that includes nine cab companies in the Lower Mainland, have left to operate ride-hailing vehicles, the association says. Business has dropped by about 70 per cent over the past year.
Taxi association president Carolyn Bauer says the ridership plunge is a combination of both competition with app-based ride-hailing services and the economic fallout of the pandemic.
"Pre-pandemic, our parking lots would be empty," she told CBC News from a lot filled with unused taxis.
Bauer says there isn't enough information that's been made available to determine the full impact ride-hailing has had on the taxi industry, given that the pandemic erupted just months after Uber and Lyft started operating in the Lower Mainland.
Popular taxi pickup spots — from airports to hotels to night clubs — have virtually dried up since last March.
But there has been stiff competition for the business that's left over. Bauer says ride-hailing companies are able to offer substantial discounts to riders because of their deep pockets.
"If they continue to do this and continue to undercut us, we can't survive, we won't survive."
Drivers scraping by
Among those sticking it out in the industry are drivers like Kulwant Sahota. He is also the president of Yellow Cab.
He says the lack of business means many drivers are barely able to cover their monthly expenses.
Drivers in cities like Surrey, for example, have to pay fees up to $150 to stay on the road.
"When it's your vehicle, you have to put repairs in it and everything. You're meeting your [costs] and maybe you're getting 25, 30, 40 dollars on top [daily]," Sahota said.
Drivers leasing vehicles from companies also have to pay hundreds of dollars in additional fees.
The Passenger Transportation Board — the provincial regulator — also charges taxi and ride-hailing companies fees based on the size of each fleet. It also sets the baseline price for rides.
Review and transparency
Bauer is calling for more transparency from the Passenger Transportation Board when it comes to just how many ride-hailing vehicles are on the road, which at this point is unclear. The VTA is among the taxi-industry stakeholders calling for a cap on the number ride-hailing vehicles allowed on the road to create a more level playing field.
The Passenger Transportation Board did not respond to requests for comment.
Over the past year, taxi associations in Metro Vancouver have lost two legal challenges attempting to drive ride-hailing off the road in B.C.
The cab companies had argued the current rules favour companies like Lyft and Uber at the expense of the taxi industry, including a lack of limits on fleet size and large operating areas for ride-hailing companies.