By: Dylan Webb, Sports Editor
As Vancouver’s public transit system continues to leave transportation needs unmet, private corporations such as Uber and Lyft are looking to fill these gaps. Unfortunately, these services have a history of leaving workers with much less profit than anticipated after operational costs are taken into account. Subsequently, we need to ask ourselves whether or not the labour downsides are worth the increased convenience should Lyft and Uber begin operations in Vancouver.
Uber, the premier ride-sharing company, is actually a ride-hailing technology company. The difference between the two is that ride-sharing is essentially carpooling — sharing a ride with others who have similar departure and destination points. Ride-hailing, on the other hand, entails hiring a paid employee to drive people directly to their destinations. This distinction is key to understanding which parts of the gig ride-hailing model (such as those used by Uber and Lyft) can benefit transportation seekers and workers. It also provides insight into which parts we can and should leave behind if ride-hailing were to come to Vancouver.
For example, Uber’s current business model relies on increasing profits through side-stepping transportation regulations and undercutting driver wages. By presenting themselves to regulators as a communications platform rather than a ride-hailing service like a taxi, Uber is able to avoid costly regulatory protocol and shift most of the operational expenses like fuel, licenses, and vehicle maintenance to the drivers themselves. This reliance on exploitative working conditions is what makes ride-hailing technology services so problematic, and what makes the search for alternatives so necessary.
A lack of transportation that is both affordable and reliable is definitely a problem in Vancouver. As SFU students who need to commute to campus, this is especially frustrating. Having an easy to use, press-of-an-app service to call a ride in an emergency would definitely take some of the pressure off of the already strained system. However, before we jump at the first opportunity to invite problematic ride-hailing services in, it’s worth exploring some alternatives.
Existing taxi companies could, for instance, integrate this technology into their existing systems. In doing so, drivers are still covered under existing labour laws, and private citizens wouldn’t be required to cover the costly expenses of operation — including the class 4 license BC requires for all ride-hailing services. Vancouver commuters could therefore enjoy the benefits of ride-hailing systems that are convenient and potentially create jobs — more jobs that, at the very least, meet minimum employment standards.
In an ideal world, these solutions would supplement a robust, properly funded public transit system. These solutions would allow SFU students to benefit from more convenient and affordable transportation options without the poverty wages and risk for workers that Uber and Lyft’s business model relies on.