Why didn’t the government intervene financially to reduce ridesharing resistance in BC?

“You do something bold, and I think the public will buy it.”

This question was at the heart of a conversation on ridesharing, hosted by Business in Vancouver at the Vancity Theatre in Yaletown. In a panel discussion moderated by BIV editor in chief Kirk LaPointe, three key stakeholders representing differing perspectives in the province’s ridesharing debate covered topics ranging from how ridesharing can improve mobility, reduce impaired driving, expand the reach of public transit, and drive economic opportunities for drivers and local businesses.

But during the exchange between Aaron Zifkin (Managing Director, Canada, Lyft), Jill Tipping (President & CEO, BC Tech), and Ian Tostenson (President & CEO, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association), there was a critical moment when LaPointe asked what perhaps became the question of the night.

LaPointe began by acknowledging what he called “the energy of money in this episode.” He asked:

Was there a mistake Ian and Jill in the government of the day not recognizing that the transformation to a sharing economy was going to come at a great cost to a number of incumbents, and that in the same way that other industries had been adjusted with funds, with the government getting their backs, that this wasn’t on the table at the time, and that in a way, this was the missed opportunity, that would have us far farther ahead?

To summarize, LaPointe is asking the following: Why didn’t government just create a transition fund to support taxi drivers whose livelihood could be severely affected by the introduction of app-based ridesharing into the B.C. market?

In response, Tostenson, who also serves as a spokesperson for the Ridesharing Now for BC Coalition, took us back in time with this response, suggesting that we did miss an opportunity, but that it’s not too late. He said:

You mentioned the small business roundtable that I sit on. It was there when the BC Liberals were in power and Peter Fassbender was the Minister of Transportation. He walked into a meeting one day and he had binders like eight feet tall, and he said look at all the work we’ve done on ridesharing.

We laughed at him because he’d being doing this for like six years. Like it’s time to get on with it. And never in the conversation that we went through during this process and meetings did anyone ever say, “What’s the cost to solve this? How do we pay out the medallion owners because they’ve lost value, because of new technology?”

No one is thinking big picture or bold thoughts. They played around with a new taxi app. Government said the app companies can’t do anything for a year. It’s all on the surface right. I totally agree with you Kirk: we missed the boat here.

Tostenson still thinks there is an opportunity for government to step-in to help the taxi industry in a different way than is currently happening. “I still think that if we’re going to disrupt the economy and if there’s a loser because government regulation is going to change something,” he continued. “Then chin up and do something. You do something bold, and I think the public will buy it. I really do.”

Tipping, a former Schneider Electric executive, said that the BC government’s approach here has been surprising to her. Technological change creates opportunity, so it of course creates disruption, she said, before making the case for why government activity makes sense especially in this situation:

Anytime that you identify a place in the economy where the benefits will be experienced by many and it will be a significant accelerator for plenty of parts of the economy and for the general citizen, and the pain will be born by a limited few—that is the best possible case for government intervention; not to hold back change, but to meaningfully engage with the economic disruption that is being caused to a small number.

Regardless if you agree with the idea of a taxi bailout, Tipping may have summed up most attendees feelings best when she laid out what could perhaps be called the B.C. transportation first principles:

There are three things that I see. We don’t have a enough supply to get people in the trips that they need from A to B. We need to make sure that what we implement is a safe solution in the widest possible sense. While it's nice to have made in BC solutions, the future is coming and it isn’t possible—even if we want to, and I’m not sure we want to—but it isn’t possible to turn back the hands of time and go back to some world 50 years ago where we didn’t have these problems. The future is coming and many of us who don’t do well with the status quo would like to see change.

“So let’s engage with that,” she added.