British Columbia Uber Alles
Columns / April 4, 2017
The arrival of Uber is inevitable, so the B.C. NDP might as well hitch a ride
Braden Klassen, Contributor
It’s more or less official now; ride-sharing enterprises like Uber and Lyft will be coming to B.C., possibly as soon as December. Uber itself hosted an online petition for British Columbians to sign to show their support for the business, with the easily attainable goal of reaching 75,000 signatures.
It seems that most people are excited to replace conventional taxi services and embrace the tech giant’s alluring promise of a convenient and affordable alternative. Strictly from a consumer point of view, there’s nothing to lose, which is why the B.C. Liberal Party has decided to hop on the coattails of Uber’s inevitable takeover and turn the company’s expansion into an election issue.
The party is promising to approve Uber’s operation in the province if they get re-elected. It’s an easy decision to make—so easy, in fact, that they probably could have done this years ago.
But where’s the fun in that?
Why would the Liberals make everybody’s lives easier by sanctioning ride-sharing businesses earlier in their term when they could just sit on it for a few years before making a big deal about it at election time? The party proudly made the announcement like they thought it was some kind of ace in the hole that would force the NDP to oppose Uber’s overwhelming popularity, or support Uber and sell out their small-business constituents in the taxi industry.
In fact, a cursory glance over the Elections B.C. party donor lists from 2014 to 2016 reveals that a number of taxi companies have given money to both parties. But as the de-facto proponents of commercial regulation and defenders of fair business practices, the NDP are much more likely to feel the heat from their benefactors once Uber and Lyft set up shop across the province. Mike Smyth from The Province wrote that this would keep the NDP “on the mushy middle of the fence,” where they’ll be unable to make a decision without looking hypocritical.
Fortunately for the NDP, it seems like they won’t have to make the unpopular move of barring Uber from B.C. after all. The multi-billion-dollar revenue-generating juggernaut that is Uber has historically shown that when it wants access to a particular market, it gets what it wants.
An excerpt from Uber’s online petition site boasts that the company’s tech-based, app-driven (and ostensibly driver-driven) business model has outdistanced the long arm of the law, and that “existing regulations have not kept pace with technology.”
When it comes to expanding its empire, the company is not shy about exploiting legislative vulnerabilities, and has repeatedly done so with relative impunity. Uber was able to operate in Toronto illegally for years until the city council relented and legalized the service.
Innovative, competitive, lucrative—the company’s modus operandi involves many different things, but “playing nice” is not one of them.
“There’s no question that ridesharing is coming to B.C.,” wrote B.C. NDP leader John Horgan in an email statement published by Metro News Vancouver. He knows that the party can’t afford to oppose the unopposable, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to regulate it, especially when their mandate is to raise the minimum wage to $15.00, if elected.
The bottom line is that, come election time, voters will likely have a choice between two parties who support the integration of ride-sharing services into the province’s economy. The only potential difference is in the level of regulation the companies might have to endure.