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Uber’s operations in Vancouver are illegal, city attorney says

Posted by on August 12th, 2014 at 6:30 am

vancouver map

(Screen capture from Uber’s Vancouver website)

The ride-hailing service Uber has hired contract drivers and is providing rides in Vancouver, Wash., illegally, according to a July 25 memo from the city attorney’s office.

“Essentially,” assistant city attorney Brent Boger wrote in the memo to city council and staff, transportation network companies such as UberX and Lyft “are taxi services operated out of personal vehicles.”

UberX costs about 35 percent less than a traditional taxi ride. Last month, Uber’s CEO said he hopes “to get UberX pricing below the cost of owning a car.”

In Vancouver, the base fare is $1.50 plus $1.65 per mile with no additional tip, compared to $2.50 base and $2.30 per mile plus tip for a normal taxi.

But the low prices are possible (despite drivers who sometimes make more per hour than traditional cabbies) in part because Uber’s practice has been to start operating in cities without following local taxi laws, such as limiting the number of taxis available or requiring a portion of the fleet to be wheelchair-ready.

Uber hasn’t yet chosen to operate illegally in Portland, where the penalty for driving an unlicensed taxi is up to six months in jail.

Portland is now the largest major metro city in the country with neither Uber or Lyft. Of the top 40 metro areas, they’re unavailable in the central city of only two: Portland and Las Vegas.

But in Vancouver, there’s no provision for imprisoning drivers of unlicensed taxis — and there is also, as Boger wrote in his memo, not enough staff for the city to actually enforce its taxi code.

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Vancouver Finance Director Lloyd Tyler has served as the city’s policy specialist on Uber.

“The city manager, Eric Holmes, raised this issue with city council very briefly about a week ago,” Tyler said in an interview Monday. A workshop to learn more about the issue and get direction from the council will “likely be held during the next couple of months,” he said.

“You wouldn’t believe all the fees and hoops I have to jump through to just put a vehicle in service. And to totally ignore it on the other side just drives me crazy.”
— Steve Entler, general manager at Radio Cab

One of the many issues raised by Uber is whether an Uber-affiliated driver’s auto insurance will pay damages if the driver injures someone while heading to pick up a fare.

Last month, Seattle’s city government struck a deal to legalize Uber and similar services in exchange for them offering up to $300,000 of contingent injury liability insurance coverage for Uber drivers who are logged into their apps but not carrying riders. (Uber drivers who are carrying riders are covered by a larger $1 million policy.) For legal taxi services, the State of Washington requires at least $300,000.

Until or unless Vancouver can reach a similar bargain with the company, anyone who’s injured by an Uber driver in this situation could get just $100,000 from the insurer.

General Manager Steve Entler of Radio Cab, which operates the metro area’s largest legal taxi fleet, said in an interview Monday that to be fair, every driver Uber is hiring in Vancouver should be waiting to get a vehicle-for-hire permit, which requires fingerprints and a criminal background check from the city. (Uber conducts its own criminal background checks for UberX drivers.)

“You cannot put that vehicle-for-hire in service until you have a vehicle-for-hire permit, and on average it takes us about three months,” Entler said. “You wouldn’t believe all the fees and hoops I have to jump through to just put a vehicle in service. And to totally ignore it on the other side just drives me crazy.”

Uber didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.

Update 8/13: Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend responds without disputing that the service is currently operating illegally in Vancouver. “Regulatory models have not kept pace with innovation,” she writes in an email. “We look forward to working with officials all over Washington to get a statewide solution that addresses this emerging industry.”

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Michael Andersen (News Editor)John LiuBjornJohn LascurettesMICHWEEK Recent comment authors
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Bjorn
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Bjorn

The minimum amounts for insurance need to go up for everyone. 100k is nothing if you are hurt badly by someone driving a car. My initial hospital stay in 1990 was over 50k.

Alex Reed
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Alex Reed

“You wouldn’t believe all the fees and hoops I have to jump through to just put a vehicle in service.” –Radio Cab

What they really mean:
“You wouldn’t believe all the politicians I have to buy to just keep the supply of competitor taxis low and profits high.”

Dave
Guest
Dave

I’m very happy to see some city, somewhere, doing something that preserves the income level of a group of working people rather than just letting the latest fraudulent “innovation” steamroller somebody’s way of making a living. The sharing economy is a scam.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

It will be interesting to see how well the CoV handles this now…the City does have rules for taxis in its VMC,

VMC
http://www.cityofvancouver.us/fms/page/taxi-driver-permits

But it also has diminished its on-going active enforcement ability greatly by closing its Private For Hire Transport Commission, laying off the staff (~1/2 FTE) and stating to council in 2012 that upon approval of the staff recommendation and council action from this point forward:

“The City does not have staffing available to enforce the program in the field.” – City Manager report to Council (2012 report 100B-12).

http://www.cityofvancouver.us/sites/default/files/fileattachments/city_council/page/10940/10a_sr100b-12_-_taxicab_ordinance.pdf

My experience with taxi’s in Vancouver…taxi service pre-2006 (when the City renewed its oversight) was pretty spotty and low quality (except for the old Vancouver Cab)…a lot of the small services had taxi’s with defective seat belts, subpar equipment (front seat propped up with broom handle, etc.), “dispatchers” in name only, and 30 to 50 minute waits for taxi service at the Amtrak Station.

Things got a lot better in 2006 system wide and a lot of those cabs retreated to the County or ended business. Back when I worked at the City, I often thought I was one of the few professional staffers who rode in Vancouver area taxis for errands (when we would discuss mobility and active transportation options). Thus the old Taxi Commission’s active enforcement was important while it lasted…since without it City Hall may not have much on-going awareness of it unless something bad happens and there is a complaint.

Peter W
Guest

I like the Uber and Lyft systems. The apps work a lot better than hailing a taxi or trying to call one.

That said, I think cities should get something good out of any deal allowing those systems to operate. The thing I’d be most interested in, that hasn’t already been mentioned, would be the GPS lat/lon positions of the start and end points of every ride. I think that’d be super useful for transit planning.

kittens
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kittens

Uber/ Lyft are great if you happen to be white, in a good part of town, have a smart phone and not in a wheelchair.

This is just further income stratification. All the white techies can self select and get their “english speaking” drivers and everything is cool.

Eric
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Eric

I also have to fly for work quite a bit. I use Radio for rides to the airport. Always punctual, friendly and professional. Then I use Uber if possible wherever I go because they’re even better than Radio. It’s truly an elevated experience. Then I get back to PDX and wait in the shitty queue and end up in a horrible crown Vic with a horrible driver that makes me car sick. I love Uber, AirBnb, and GetAround. The future is now. If capitalism is so great, it should all work out.

fredlf
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fredlf

Businesses like Uber and AirBnB are the natural consequence of the gutting of the middle class.

Jim
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Jim

Lyft might be worth checking out, but Uber is becoming mafia like in their business practices: http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/11/technology/uber-fake-ride-requests-lyft/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

pdx2wheeler
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pdx2wheeler

Last time I tried to get a cab out to NoPo it was a NoShow! Gave up and drove myself to my holiday x-mas party, where drinking was occurring… Basically, our city fosters a system that almost encourages drinking and driving.

MICHWEEK
Guest
MICHWEEK

Just some food for thought here. I have friends in Madison, WI. They successfully kicked Uber & Lyft out of their town. Here are some links,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srJLxniJiS0

http://goo.gl/6PwErg

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=42766

http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/5580-uber-charges-osl-fans-470-dollar-for-a-ride

The discrimination is what irks me most – taxi companies are required to have wheel chair accessible vehicles who makes sure that Uber always has one available? The unregulated cost to the consumer, insurance, and tax scheme also bother me, who’s paying for all that wear and tear on the road? We can’t even ban studded tires, what do we need with several more cars for hire on the road? I appreciate and use sites like Couchsurfers.com and Warmshowers, but I don’t pay to stay at those places, they don’t make a profit other than some ad money.

John Lascurettes
Guest

For anyone that thinks Uber is a “fair market” player: http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/11/technology/uber-fake-ride-requests-lyft/

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Just started wondering . . . maybe I am missing something . . . what is the connection of this topic to bicycling?