Uber commemorated its long-awaited launch in Greater Victoria, which became one of the more than 140 regions across Canada to offer the ride-hailing service.
The launch event on Tuesday (June 6) was an exciting moment for those in attendance, but was greeted with looming concerns about driver numbers, driver equity, local taxi companies and increased traffic.
Uber Canada general manager Michael van Hemmen announced at the event that Victoria does not currently have enough drivers “to meet expected demand,” adding the company has been holding several driver recruitment events over the past few weeks.
Uber will additionally be offering a $1,000 bonus to drivers who complete 20 trips within the first two weeks of operation.
“We are asking for a little bit of patience from residents and visitors alike as wait times might be longer as we might have hoped as we roll out,” he said.
Amid rising concerns surrounding lack of driver benefits and protection while working as independent contractors, van Hemmen held that maintaining the independent contractor status for drivers is crucial to allow drivers to set their own hours and use their own vehicles.
He added Uber and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union, which represent Uber drivers, are in conversation with the provincial government to update the current labour model to include flexible benefit options for drivers.
“There are talks with UFCW about earnings guarantees and flexible benefits so that Uber would pay into a fund that allows the driver to use (the money) toward which types of benefits they want,” he said. “It needs some provincial action in order to put that system into place because the current model is a fairly outdated labour model.”
There is no current timeline for the roll out of this initiative.
Another major concern is Uber’s impact on local cab companies, which are now forced to operate alongside the ride-hailing giant. Uber is currently showing that it beats the current rate on many popular routes in Greater Victoria, including from downtown to the Victoria International Airport.
Although Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto highlighted the importance of ensuring there was an “even playing field” with existing cab and transit options, van Hemmen did not show the same concern for the potential impact on local cab companies.
“We view our job primarily on making sure that our customers are happy,” he said. “When it comes to drivers, we want to be the most attractive opportunity that you can have to drive people around and make money. Similarly, for riders, we want to make sure it’s the most enjoyable and affordable ride.”
While the introduction of Uber has reportedly increased the number of vehicles on the road in other major Canadian cities such as Toronto, Alto said she hopes Victoria can see a trend in the other direction long-term by further reducing the need for personal car ownership in the city.
“The hope in the long-term is it will reduce the number of vehicles on the road,” she said. “There are a number of important strategies around managing both traffic and the development of different routes, and (Uber) is just going to become part of that conversation.”
“It also helps us as we move towards less and less parking, something that is certainly an ambitious plan of this current council,” she added.
Uber is now operational throughout the entire Greater Victoria region, from Langford to downtown and up to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.