Lament our leadership.
Granted, most every politician needs to possess the ingredients of blarney and bluster. What genuine veins they possess must on occasion run cold blood through them to evade those moments in which they are cornered.
But it has come time to call out this nonsense from the premier and his government about puck-ragging on ride-hailing. As we lurch toward introduction, we are the laughingstocks of North America, perceived pretenders in tech because one of the most significant applications of its innovation remains on ice into its second decade elsewhere. And what John Horgan will just not say – just will not make this one public concession to and admission of realpolitik in British Columbia – is that his government’s antediluvian posture is more than anything out of defensive dread of a perceived political third rail: the fearsome taxi lobby that possibly swung the last election by punishing two Liberal Surrey MLAs who dared suggest we adopt what the rest of the world has.
And for those two swing seats, the province has since contorted itself into concocted tales of the need for more study, the absurd objective to level the playing field for newbies and incumbents, the hubris of creating a made-in-B.C. model, the fabrication of the difficulties in creating a new insurance scheme, and the overall pretension of protecting the public instead of a minuscule element of it.
His failure to just fess up frankly makes the most cynical think his folks are beholden. Industries everywhere have borne disruption, but the effort of the NDP government is reminiscent of 12th-century courtiers claiming King Canute could hold back the tides. Memo to the premier: Even the King admitted he couldn’t.
When the Passenger Transportation Board, newly led by BC NDP stalwarts, begins in October to entertain entrants into the ride-hailing era, they stand to do so under unique retrograde conditions that severely compromise the viability of the offering.
Caps on the number of vehicles. Boundaries on where they can go. Rules on what they can charge. And of course, Class 4 driving licences that require time and money to gain that will likely help undermine the side hustles these jobs typically are. This is not Ride-Hailing 1.0, but Taxi-Protecting 2.0.
The NDP’s approach is to bolt a new way of doing business on to the old way of doing it.
If I were Lyft or Uber, I’d be wondering if it’s worth the effort – which, if we might resume cynicism for a moment, might be the overall discouraging purpose of the government. Last week at one of our public events, Lyft’s managing director for Canada, Aaron Zifkin, said he was cautiously optimistic of progress on some of these impediments before autumn. I say to the fellow native Torontonian: I was once like you, but politics here can change sunny assumptions.
The NDP and previous BC Liberal government might have treated the disrupted taxi business as other governments have other industries with an adjustment package to mitigate the misery of owning the licensing medallions that must now feel like the weakest cryptocurrency. Given ride-hailing yields productivity gains and expanded economic activity in the tens of millions of dollars, might government have been wise to compensate those side-swiped by innovation instead of taking such pains to fabricate anything but that?
What we know now is that in this catch-up NDP environment, ride-hailing will have no chance here of ingenuity. Under such grudging conditions, why would anyone research or invest in advances on the technology its government restrains?
Then there is the incongruence with many other stated NDP intentions: to get us out of our cars, to create more green space instead of asphalt lots and to help some of us deal with affordability issues.
We need to get to the stage where getting a ride is even more seamless than getting Wi-Fi in a coffee shop. The bad news is the NDP aren’t taking us there. The good news is that they didn’t get a chance to introduce Wi-Fi. •
Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, at Glacier Media.