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Vancouver council: Taxi code needs to be updated

It must address smartphone-based ride services such as Uber

By Stephanie Rice
Published: October 6, 2014, 5:00pm

The Vancouver City Council said Monday the city’s taxi code needs to be updated to include transportation network companies such as Uber, which has been operating illegally in Vancouver since this summer.

The workshop was the first time the council discussed Uber and how its smartphone-based ride service, network of drivers who use their personal vehicles and flat fees don’t fit under the city’s taxicab ordinance. City laws for taxi drivers date to 1939, and the current code regulates metered vehicles for hire that have a uniform look and operate out of central business location. The city leaves it to the state to license flat-rate driving services such as limousines.

What the new code will look like, however, will have to wait for another workshop. City Manager Eric Holmes said one will be scheduled for this year.

After hearing an array of policy options, Councilor Jack Burkman suggested the city scrap its current code and start with the idea the city will fully deregulate the taxi industry. Then maybe some requirements, made with passenger safety in mind, can be adopted. Other councilors liked the idea of partially deregulating the industry.

Currently, three taxicab companies operate in the city. They pay a fee every other year and each driver must be licensed by the city. Those requirements stem from a 2006 update of the taxicab ordinance, which also limited the number of taxis, regulated the market and set rates. The 2006 law also created a volunteer transportation commission and a program administrator. That staff position was eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts. The commission was suspended in 2010, then eliminated in 2012.

The program was turned over to the city’s finance department. Vancouver Chief Financial Officer Lloyd Tyler said Monday it costs approximately $30,000 annually to administer and ideally the city would recover 25 percent of that cost through the fees, but that goal hasn’t been met.

Tyler said Uber has approximately 40 drivers in Vancouver.

No enforcement action has been taken against Uber. Tyler said enforcing the city’s taxicab ordinance isn’t a priority for the police department.

Cities have taken different approaches to transportation network companies, which include Lyft and Sidecar. Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane allow Uber, for example, while Portland doesn’t.

City councilors agreed Monday that if the city continues to regulate ride-for-hire companies, the same rules should apply to taxicab and transportation network companies.

Assistant City Attorney Brent Boger told councilors concerned about Uber’s insurance requirements that they currently exceed what’s required in city code.