Taxi driver’s perspective on Uber coming to Vancouver

Uber had been, until recently, effectively outlawed in Vancouver (history). I took a taxi(!) to the airport there on September 12 and asked the driver how he felt about the impending Uberstorm.

He was an unskilled, though English-speaking, immigrant who rented the taxi from the medallion owner at a fixed price and then his earnings were dependent on the vicissitudes of the market. How much was a medallion worth? “It used to be $500,000,” he replied, “but now they’re down to $50,000.” (Vancouver Sun says that the peak was C$1 million).

Due to the fact that prices for taxi rides were high enough to pay the rent on a C$1 million asset (the medallion), consumers used taxis only as a last resort and drivers ended up netting more or less the market-clearing wage for unskilled immigrant labor. With lower prices, the driver expected to be working more and keeping everything but the car costs.


  • California AB 5, a new law that is intended to force Uber to treat drivers as W-2 workers (ironically leaving drivers of traditional taxis, who have to rent from medallion owners, as supposedly modern “gig” workers)

10 thoughts on “Taxi driver’s perspective on Uber coming to Vancouver

    • Or still a better deal (vs Uber) to rent from a medallion owner who only has to make a profit on a $50K investment. Charging $5K a year to rent a medallion would be a 10% RoR for the owner and a lot less than the 30% Uber cut assuming taxi drivers have to be making at least $20K to survive: 20/.7 – 20 = $8.6K as a low estimate of Uber’s cut.

  1. Did he get you to your destination safely? If he did, it’s not reasonable to say that he’s unskilled. Also, you should have gotten a phone number or email address to check back with him in the future to see how accurate his prediction turns out to be.

  2. I don’t understand why there aren’t 10 or 12 Uber companies? As far as I know, there’s Uber and Lyft. I had considered having a service for disabled/elderly where a caregiver could arrange a ride for another person. I tried to use Lyft’s version of this service, but the app hiccuped and sent the driver to my house instead of my mothers. The drivers would have to better trained and given more information about the person and what to tell them. (Your son has arranged a ride for you to your family doctor . Something like that.

    • Because Uber and Lyft are basically enormous law firms with some engineering on a side. Dealing with all municipalities and political hacks which cannot stand the idea of fair competition to their crony pals takes a lot of resources.

      In places where local governments aren’t allowed to arbitrarily restrain trade there is a healthy competition between many taxi/ridesharing dispatch companies. Visit Moscow (Russia) for example. (The other interesting difference is that because Russia never developed the crony medallion system which siphons the resources from the providers of the service towards passive medallion owners, most of taxis there are actual professionally-driven and maintained taxis, only with Uber-like convenience and service provided by the on-line dispatch companies).

  3. I’m consistently impressed in America by how both legit cabbies and rideshare drivers: A) are horrible drivers that nearly cause accidents all the time; B) don’t actually know where anything is and will gladly drive into wall if a cell phone tells them to, or blissfully head off in the exactly wrong direction if they typo-ed a digit.

    The proliferation of Uber and Lyft is in fact noticeable on the streets from a safety perspective. They do stupid things like randomly stop or swerve across lanes all the time. Examples of unacceptable driving personally witnessed in recent years: going 45 mph on 70+ highways with honking cars screaming by; tapping the brakes every 40 yards for no particular reason; swerving into bike lanes and nearly killing cyclists when stopping and picking up.

    I couldn’t care less about the rideshare v. medallion issue, but if we are going to have thousands of “professional” drivers prowling our streets I’d rather they all be subject to some basic annual testing. Piloting a two ton vehicle is more serious than cutting hair, but hair cutting requires licensing.

    Drivers should have knowledge of the city, good vision, reaction times, and they should understand how to drive a car in the way that normal American drivers do. Once every three years they should demonstrate ability to pilot their vehicle through a narrow course of cones at a posted speed and finish with an emergency stop. At least half would currently fail.

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