July 10, 2019 10:07 pm
Updated: July 11, 2019 3:07 pm

New numbers raise questions about the power of the taxi lobby in Metro Vancouver

WATCH: A Global News investigation has revealed the powerful reach of the taxi lobby in Metro Vancouver, and how the more than 2,000 cabs are actually controlled by a relatively small group of people. Richard Zussman reports.

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The B.C. government says it has no plans to buy out taxi licences from owners in the province. This comes amid industry fears that licences will drop in value when ridesharing hits the road.

When asked about whether the province has plans to buy up licences, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena responded with a strong “no,” adding that the province is still concerned about the effects ridesharing will have on the existing taxi industry.

“We are working very closely with the taxi industry to make sure they are ready for the changes in the industry that app-based ride-hailing will bring in,” Trevena said.

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“We have lots of people who are working hard, who have a lot of money invested in taxi licences. This is their income. We have lots of drivers of taxis who are working as taxi drivers. We want to make sure they continue working. But we also want to know people have the choice that they have so clearly said that they want.”

Other jurisdictions, including New York City, have grappled with how to deal with decreasing values of licences following the introduction of ridesharing.

READ MORE: Vancouver taxi industry set to partner with ridesharing app Kater before new rules come into effect

Global News looked at the 2,081 taxi licences in Metro Vancouver. Those licences are controlled by 28 taxi companies, which are operated by a total of 106 directors.

What is unclear is how many people actually own the taxi licences or have a stake in the taxi companies.

“It is the way industry has evolved. It has evolved here, it has evolved in other jurisdictions like this,” Trevena said.

“We have worked to open up the taxi industry. To bring in new licences.”

WATCH (January 8, 2019): Vancouver Taxi association breaking in to ridesharing

The B.C. Green Party has criticized the current government and the former B.C. Liberal government for making decisions based on the strength of the taxi industry.

“One of the issues that we continue to run up against is a very powerful, consolidated lobby,” Green Party MLA Adam Olsen said.

WATCH (June 14, 2019): Focus BC: Next steps for ridesharing in the province

“I think that influence is changing because of the campaign finance reforms we have brought in. But in the current first-past-the-post system there are rewards for making decisions about jurisdictions. What we have seen here is a concerted effort to make sure the people of Surrey are OK.”

Taxi licence owners predominantly come from South Asian backgrounds and live in areas of Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey.

The provincial government did pass legislation, with the support of the Greens, that has reduced the amount people can donate to political parties and banned union and corporate political donations.

READ MORE: B.C. government to start taking ride-hailing applications in September, key rules still unknown

The B.C. Taxi Association says it is concerned that ridesharing will hurt licence values, but don’t know how large the impact will be.

“You can’t say a blanket [price] on how much we are going to lose, but probably the fear or the uncertainty has brought down the share price quite a bit,” B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang said.

Starting this week, the Passenger Transportation Board kicked off consultations with the taxi and transportation network service industry on “sound economic conditions.”

The board is required to ensure economic conditions are not crippled when setting operating areas, fleet sizes and rates for ridesharing.

The province is set to start accepting applications for ridesharing companies in September, with vehicles legally allowed to operate on September 16. The realistic expectation is that ridesharing vehicles will be on the road by the end of the year.

“People in the taxi industry have worked very hard to be a good community citizens … and they have also served the general public well over the years,” Kang said.

“I think the government has to know that it is not one place where we serve. In some of the small places in the province, the taxi industry has become an essential service.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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