City of Vancouver: No Uber, Lyft complaints

No reports of problems, but taxi companies still unhappy with new code

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter

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Vancouver city officials say they’ve received no complaints about Uber or Lyft ride-sharing services since the city’s new taxi code went into effect in March, but local taxi companies remain unhappy about the law.

The city council adopted the new code to create a level playing field for the city’s legacy taxi companies — Vancouver Cab, Broadway Cab and Radio Cab — and the new wave of ride-sharing networks such as Uber and Lyft.

Uber came to Vancouver in July 2014 and operated unregulated for seven months, frustrating established taxi companies, which argued that Uber was thumbing its nose at local laws. Passengers use a smartphone app to connect with and pay Uber drivers, who use their own vehicles.

City staff told the city council at an Aug. 24 workshop that Vancouver’s original three taxi companies say they haven’t seen any changes in their operations, and nobody from the public has contacted the city with complaints.

“We wanted to have a smooth transition, and it appears to have worked out that way,” Lloyd Tyler, the city’s chief financial officer, said.

More than 300 Uber drivers have registered with the city so far, according to the city’s finance department. Before Uber and Lyft’s arrival, the city had licensed 37 taxi cab vehicles, and 70 taxi drivers held permits. Since February, the number of taxi companies in town has increased from three to five, according to the city.

Under Vancouver’s new Taxi/ Transportation Network Company code, all companies that offer rides must hold a city business license and a city taxicab/TNC special license, the latter of which costs $200. To operate in Vancouver, drivers must meet background and training standards. Drivers also must hold a city business license or claim a license exemption if they expect to gross less than $12,000 a year.

Most of the Uber drivers signed up for the license exemption, indicating they’re working only part time, Tyler said.

Managers at Vancouver Cab and Radio Cab call the city’s assessment of a “smooth transition” an oversimplification.

Radio Cab general manager Steve Entler said his company’s call count this summer is down at least 7 percent compared to summer 2014. Those numbers could rebound, he said, because based on his observation and number crunching, most Uber drivers deserted Vancouver as soon as Portland revised its taxi rules this summer. Radio Cab operates about 155 vehicles in Portland, where the company’s call counts have fallen 20 percent since Portland allowed Uber and Lyft to enter the market, Entler said.

“They’re taking away employment possibilities for people who work for Radio Cab,” he said Tuesday. “They can start and stop when they want. … Do it on weekends, do it whenever it looks like it’s lucrative.”

Before Vancouver changed its taxi code, cab companies were required to have a local office, and so Radio Cab invested in property, Entler said.

“We complied with their wishes only to have the whole thing thrown back in our face a few years later,” he said. “It kind of makes us wonder why we paid attention to city code in the first place. … There is basically zero enforcement.”

Vancouver Cab operations manager Shannon Stewart said while the arrival of Uber hasn’t made a huge economic impact on her company, and while the number of Vancouver Cab’s drivers hasn’t diminished, the atmosphere on the street among drivers is “a little more hostile.” There are still rogue drivers who aren’t following the rules, and there doesn’t seem to be any enforcement, she said.

Stewart said she didn’t know about the council’s August taxicab workshop until after it was held. Her company still has hurt feelings about how the city changed the taxi code that’s been in existence since 1939 to accommodate “the behemoths from Silicon Valley,” she said Friday.

Stewart also contends the city’s more relaxed rules for driver background checks put the public in danger. The city doesn’t require proof that a background check was conducted other than an affidavit attesting to it, said Stewart, whose cab company has chosen to continue doing state and federal fingerprint background checks.

Representatives from Broadway Cab did not return The Columbian’s calls.