As news of B.C.’s first successful ride-hailing application raced across headlines, in Squamish, not everyone was keen to see the green light.
The newly approved Whistle Ride Co. is part of Green Coast Ventures Inc, which got its start in Tofino in 2002. Since then, Green Coast’s inter-city bus fleet has grown to provide services to more communities than other similar services in the province.
With the yet-to-be-released Whistle App, the company will focus on resort communities including Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, Tofino and Ucluelet. Green Coast’s Dylan Green told Pique Newsmagazine the app will launch in the next week.
Channi Sodhi, the owner of Squamish Taxi, said that while he always tries to think positively and welcome new ideas, he’s upset by the province’s ride-hailing decisions.
Sodhi said the two taxi companies in town are owned by locals. Squamish Taxi, previously known as Yellow Cab, resumed operations nearly two years ago after a hiatus.
“We’re probably going to lose business,” Sodhi said. “We’re always short of staff. If we don’t have enough drivers to drive our taxis, how can somebody provide the service?”
It’s a concern Green acknowledges.
“It’s really difficult for a small [taxi] company in a small town that is so seasonal to have enough drivers and vehicles just for the weekends or during the holiday season,” he told Pique. “I see ride-hailing as a big solution to that.”
Sodhi said he would wait and see, but imagines the new service will impact taxis.
“If the government was going to bring it in, it should be a fair deal with the taxis. They’re going to provide the same service as what we do. Now, we pay commercial insurance on our vehicles, we go through the safety inspection.
“Our rates are regulated by the government. We go through all this process, the meter cost, the stickers on your car — everything adds up at the end of the day.”
While Whistle and other ride-hailing services won’t be able to set a lower rate than taxi fares, passengers have the option to share their ride with other app users to split costs.
In an email to The Chief, Flo Devellennes, the CEO and co-founder of Poparide, said Poparide, unlike ride-hailing, does not have its own drivers or vehicles, but offers a platform connecting people using their own vehicle to include others in their trip plan to help cover travel costs. These trips, Devellennes said, are usually more than 50 kilometres, rather than shorter distances.
While Poparide did not provide numbers for its usage in Squamish, Devellennes said, “We believe that the introduction of ride-hailing in British Columbia will stimulate growth on Poparide’s intercity ridesharing network. As seen in other provinces where ride-hailing operates, more passengers will be using ride-hailing as a means to travel to Poparide pickup points for trips that are departing for
Another question Sodhi has about ride-hailing comes down to accessibility for all passengers.
“Are those ride-hailing companies going to provide service to disabled people? Are they going to provide a service like wheelchair cabs?” Sodhi asked.
In the Passenger Transportation Board’s decision regarding Green Coast, it stated that Green Coast would be required to pay a trip fee, which will be used to promote accessible services. The company’s application also said it will offer increased driver premiums for accessible vehicles.
Sodhi said Squamish Taxi and Howe Sound Taxi both have their own accessible vehicle for passengers with disabilities.
“We feel proud to provide them a service,” he said. “The problem is, if the government is bringing these ride-hailing companies, there should be a law or something” about how many accessible vehicles they should include in their fleet. If taxi companies can’t make money and have to close, he asked who will serve those passengers.
Sodhi said Squamish Taxi will not be cutting any services, and will try to keep up with demand.
Following the announcement, Mayor Karen Elliott told The Chief she has yet to speak with the people behind Whistle, as she didn’t know the Passenger Transportation Board was set to approve their application.
“It’s very interesting that the first licence was awarded to a company that is going to be working up our way eventually. We thought this would be very much focused on the Lower Mainland first. It came as a surprise,” she said.
Elliott said, while some details of the company’s operations are still unknown, she’s interested in how many vehicles will be placed in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, and what inter-municipal transportation could look like. In its application, Green Coast Ventures said there will be 30 vehicles between the three municipalities, but did not specify how many will be located in each.
“We’re certainly open to having the conversation with Whistle,” Elliott said. “We don’t have any bylaws in place yet around ride-hailing, but we are very much tapped into the inter-municipal business licence conversation that’s going on in the Lower Mainland.”
That conversation is still in its early stages, Elliott said, but aims to ensure there isn’t a patchwork of different regulations that transportation network services would travel between.
“I think as our economy evolves and these new services evolve, it’s great to see people in B.C. innovating and leading,” she said. “It’s fantastic that it’s not an Uber and a Lyft, but someone who understands resort or tourism-based economies a little bit more and is connected to our corridor as well as to Tofino and Ucluelet.”
As far as potential impacts to public transit, Elliott said it’s too early to speculate.
“I think that ride-hailing services can actually be complementary to transit, but we know we have work to do to increase the frequency of transit to make it a service that people will want to use, and can use, both early in the morning and late at night and at those peak times. We know we’re not there yet. In the short-term, ride-hailing services can supplement, until we’re in a position to increase our transit frequency across more hours of the day,” Elliott said. “I think there’s an opportunity to provide better service to our community, as long as the right regulations are in place and we monitor that over time to make sure it’s not adding to congestion and not taking away from our transit service.”
Howe Sound Taxi did not return comment before The Chief’s deadline.
-With files from Joel Barde, Pique Newsmagazine