Richmond taxi firm warns of Uber's arrival

Garden City Cabs' boss believes customer service in the city may plummet when ride-hailing option comes to town

At least one Richmond taxi cab company is warning that the provincial government’s pending deal to add Uber to the Lower Mainland’s taxi options this December could erode services for local customers.

Hafiz Khan, general manager at Garden City Cabs told the News on Monday that provisions in the agreement bringing the long-awaited smartphone-based, rideshare system into service could also call for the removal of municipal boundaries.

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That means taxis from outlying suburbs, including Richmond, may be able pick up passengers in perceived, richer passenger markets, such as Downtown Vancouver.

“A lot of the local drivers could head into Vancouver where they think the money is flying,” said Khan, whose company operates 36 cabs. “And that may leave local customers here waiting longer for a cab.”

Khan added any deal to bring Uber into service should be mindful of erasing city boundaries. “The (Transportation) Ministry wants feedback from the taxi associations and that is one aspect they need to address.”

So, too, is the level of service taxi customers receive. Khan contends those drivers who work for recognized taxi companies and have acquired a Class 4 driver’s licence — which allows them to drive a vehicle with as many as 14 passengers — and have successfully completed the TaxiHost Pro program, can offer more than their Uber counterparts.

Offered by the Justice Institute of BC, those enrolling in the program must take a basic geography test of the Lower Mainland area and demonstrate they have basic English language capabilities — both written and spoken.

Khan said it’s necessary to have the TaxiHost Pro certificate to work with a taxi firm.

“What will Uber drivers be required to have? Some of them may be 19-year-old kids with a nice car borrowed from their parents who will go out there and drive for the night,” Khan said. “They won’t have the type of training our drivers have.”

Plus, they will have bypassed the $550 for the TaxiHost Pro course.

“That’s a lot of money for someone to invest in their training, which is important to provide customers with a decent level of service,” Khan said.

On the question of language proficiency, Khan said gone are the days when many local cab drivers struggled with English.

“We now have so many lawyers and doctors, educated people, who have come here from Third World countries who speak English well,” Khan said. “That’s not such an issue today.”

Tourism Richmond’s incoming CEO, Bruce Okabe, said new sharing economy services, such as Uber and Airbnb, are good for the tourism industry. But he countered that with a call for the competition, between established operators and emerging services, be equal.

“Certainly, giving people the ability to get here easily and get around easily is a good thing,” Okabe said. “But we have be very cognizant of making sure that the playing field is level and organizations that are going to be impacted have the ability to compete.”

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