13 Apr 19

What if there was no ridehailing? Ask Vancouver!

As various studies suggest that ridehailing companies add to traffic congestion, it is interesting to have a look at the mobility system in one of the few cities without ridehailing companies: Vancouver, British Columbia. 

As one of only a few cities in North America, the Vancouver region does not allow ridehailing since it considers ridehailing as a limousine service which makes them subject to a minimum charge of CA$75 (US$56). Moreover, local insurance regulation does not (yet) enable coverage for specific ridehailing cases, such as an accident before picking up a rider. As a result, ridehailing is not available in the entire province. 

This has two major consequences for the transportation system, a succesfull modal shift and a carsharing boom. 

Public transit on the rise

Compared to other cities where the number of public transit riders is dropping significantly, Vancouver actually adds more riders. Whereas 31 of the 35 largest transit systems in the US actually lost riders in 2017, and overall bus ridership in the region dropped by 5%, Vancouver saw an increase of ridership by 5.7% in 2017 – the fastest rate in North America. For 2018 the ridership even rose by 6.7%. Bus ridership alone rose by 7.3%. 

The high success of public transit has not only to do with the absence of ridehailing companies, but also with the dense network of buses, trains and ferries. 90% of Vancouver citizens live within a 10-minute walk or bike ride to one of the public transit stations, hence making last- or first-mile by ride hailing unnecessary. In comparison, only New York scores better. Additionally, the entire network can be accessed via a NFC-enabled smartphone, or the TransLink Compass Card. 

Active commuters

In total, the percentage of walking, cycling, or transit-using commuters rose from 57% in 2013 to 59% in 2017. Thanks to the additional investments in extensive and protected bicycle lanes and infrastructure, bike commuting alone jumped by about 50%. 

The absence of ridehailing companies can be seen as an important contributing factor to the modal shift, since various studies showed how ridehailing trips pull people out of public transit and/or some ridehailing trips replaced walking or cycling trips or would not have been performed at all if the ridehailing option would not have been available. For the US in particular, a study by the University of California-Davis (2017) investigating seven major American cities, found that about half of the ridehail trips replaced transit, walking, or biking, or would not have been performed at all.  

Carsharing boom 

On top of that carsharing services in Vancouver flourish like nowhere else. Vancouver counts about 3,000 shared vehicles, which can be seen as the most shared vehicles per capita in North America. Car2Go, for instance, has 192,000 members in the region, which is a higher amount than in any other Northern American city. Especially free-floating car sharing services can function perfectly as a ridehailing substitute. 

To ridehail or not?

Considering the high success of carsharing, public transit and active commuting, you might assume that Vancouver will continue to be a ridehailing-free city. Nevertheless, the majority of the local residents, especially the younger generations, would like to see Uber and Lyft legalised. Besides Vancouver’s residents who enjoyed the service out of town, the tourism industry is an advocate of the service as well. 

Ridehailing companies could fill in the gap of late-night transport or in case of an over-demand of regular taxi services in the case of a particular public event. Despite the opposition of the taxi industry of course. 

Moreover, the government of British Columbia elected in 2017 did promise to legalise ride-hailing. Yet it seems like the city is not going to let its streets be overflown by ridehailing vehicles. Policymakers already explored a cap on ridehail vehicles, similar to the one in New York City. It seems like the city is willing to avoid the counter side of the medallion such as added traffic congestion. Therefore, congestion-management measures such as road pricing could be options in order to deploy the service successfully. And the conversion of some parking spots into pick-up and drop-off points, to avoid traffic congestion and guarantee the safety of pedestrians for instance. 

Hence, as one of the last bastions to be conquered by ridehailing services, Vancouver is at a critical stage in its decision to allow ridehailers or not. Will its measures be sufficient to guarantee the continuous blossoming of its carsharing services and modal shift, or will ride hailing undermine the unique transportation system of the city?

Authored by: Fien Van den steen