COLUMN: Punches are flying in Surrey over ride-hailing, but it’s an uneven match

Like other businesses that face internet-based competition, the taxi industry must adapt

With the arrival of ride-hailing in parts of B.C., the gloves are now off in Surrey.

Up to this point, Mayor Doug McCallum has essentially been shadow boxing against a much larger opponent – one that was simply awaiting permission to step into the ring.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Uber, Lyft approved for ride-hailing in Lower Mainland

That day arrived last week and now the match has begun in earnest. If this were a movie, Uber would have danced its way to the ring in a flashy silk robe, embroidered with a tiger or a stallion, while the Scorpions blared over the speakers and the crowd cheered wildly – the ones up north, who managed to get tickets, that is.

Even as Uber was getting warmed up, McCallum used the old rope-a-dope tactic, having city staff summon a car and then issue a warning to the driver and fine the company for violating rules that don’t yet exist in this particular arena.

Fighting according to league rules, at first Uber simply swatted him off. Then on Wednesday, it took its first real swing, filing for an injunction in B.C.’s Supreme Court in an attempt at a quick KO.

READ MORE: Surrey bylaw’s tactics with Uber drivers deemed ‘entrapment’ and ‘completely wrong’

READ MORE: Taxi association asks B.C. Supreme Court to stop Uber, Lyft from operating

Now that I’ve beaten that analogy to a bloody pulp, the truth is, as much as he feels justified in his actions – and he does have his supporters – McCallum is fighting an uphill battle.

He says he is protecting members of the taxi industry, who are calling for a level playing field where they are not limited in the number of licences they can hold or the area they’re permitted to serve.

That seems reasonable.

Speaking as someone whose industry has been dealt some pretty serious blows since the advent of the internet (and its attendant free online classified sites), I get that this kind of change can hurt.

Newspapers today are smaller and publish less frequently than they did 10 or 15 years ago, but our online presence has been beefed up significantly in that time, and efforts to turn it into an increasingly successful business model are ongoing.

That means many of us have had to develop new skill sets – learning to use tools that didn’t exist when I left journalism school.

Those coming into the industry today are required to know a lot more about the technical side of the job, but likely wouldn’t recognize a pica pole if it bit off a chunk of their ear.

Adapting is tough, but necessary. I don’t know what that’s going to look like for the taxi industry, but you can bet someone is out there working on it. If not, they most certainly should be.

On the rare occasion I’ve hired a taxi over the past 20 years, my ride has arrived promptly, the vehicle has been clean and the driver friendly and professional.

But I seldom find myself out late on a weekend when demand is at its peak. It’s at these times, people complain, they can wait hours for a taxi to pick them up.

Ride-hailing will fill that gap, but users are going to pay for the convenience with (sometimes severe) surge-pricing. A ride home after a New Year’s Eve party, for example, can cost many times the standard rate. While this might lead ride-hailing fans to put their money on the other guy once in a while, unless the taxi industry rethinks its business model – and quickly – it won’t be enough to keep it off the ropes for long.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

ColumnUber

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Guard dog trainer looks to take over part of tree farm

An unused horse arena and gravel area on Green Road property proposed for alternate use

Council ponders next steps for Pitt Meadows Official Community Plan

Revising a blueprint for how to keep growing and developing the city has been stalled by COVID

LETTER: Why are mobile lab workers not getting hazard pay?

A Pitt Meadows essential service worker questions why she and coworkers are not being compensated

PHOTOS: Maple Ridge Cubs conduct porch-based food drive

A Scouting from Home effort sees kids collecting non-perishables for the Friends In Need Food Bank

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping The News to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

COVID-19: B.C. park reservations surge as campgrounds reopen

Keep trying, many sites not reservable, George Heyman says

$2,000 reward for info on suburban trap after raccoon dies

Animal rights groups say there was no need for the trap

B.C. residents can now reserve a provincial campsite for a stay starting June 1

Campsite reservations will only be available to British Columbians

Cullen commission into money laundering in British Columbia resumes today

Inquiry was called amid growing concern that illegal cash was helping fuel real estate, luxury car and gambling

Missing North Delta senior found dead after nine days

88-year-old Jarnail Sanghera had been missing since the morning of Friday, May 15

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

Most Read