With Uber being given the go-ahead to operate within the region, many are rejoicing at the thought of being able to have an alternative to taxis in the city. Despite the fanfare, many equity seeking groups and individuals have come out in opposition against the ride-hailing giant’s emergence on the South Island.
Our current public transportation network is plagued by relative infrequency, inconsistency, and lack of overall reach that leaves many residents and visitors alike frustrated outside of a few core routes. Even then, many routes have a critical lack of early morning or late-night services necessary to support a mobile workforce and region. In light of our current transit woes, Uber might seem like a low-hanging fruit ready to be picked. With the push of a button, you can potentially have rides on demand from doorstep to doorstep- convenience at its finest. Despite this, Uber could undermine both climate and social equity work that so many municipalities in the region have been working towards.
New collaborative research from Wayne State, Mcgill, and the University of Maryland have found that Uber shifts individuals towards private vehicles and away from public transit systems. This pattern can lead to a reduction in services that are critical to providing many working-class residents with mobility.
When services like Uber cannibalize ridership from public transportation many are left behind who do not have the means to access the new service. Uber pricing out many lower income riders will be forced to deal with the aftermath as the traditional transit services they rely upon lose market share.
Furthermore, A report from the California Air Resources Board found that nearly 39 percent of vehicle miles traveled by ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft could be referred to as “deadhead miles”; the number of miles you drive with an empty vehicle while either returning to a central point or by driving to a new destination to pick up a passenger. Because of this effect, personal rides using these services can result in trips that on average produce around 47 percent more emissions than they would have if done completely by private vehicle.
The provincial climate plan calls for reducing vehicle kilometers travelled (VKT) 25% by 2030. If the region is looking towards reducing VKTs and bolstering active transportation and public transit, Uber is the wrong direction to go.
In a city as compact as Victoria, and in a region this tightly connected, the effects of Uber adoption have an even greater knock-on to transportation planning, and stand to erase the cultural shift that seems to be percolating towards favouring active and public transportation. Researchers have found that the denser a city is, the more likely it is that Uber will cause a disruption to the ratio of those who previously chose to walk, ride, or take public transit. All of which lead to more vehicles on the road, more dependence on personal vehicles, higher emissions, and ultimately- an undoing of the climate action work being done to promote alternative modes of transportation. Victoria currently has the highest percentage of those who choose to roll to work in the country, with 5.3 percent of commuting trips being done by bike. Victoria is second only to Ottawa-Gatineau in terms of those who walk to work, with 29.5 percent of downtown commuters choosing to walk to work downtown.
Lastly, Uber occupies a space in the unregulated gig economy; allowing them to operate without the same pay rates, benefits, and protections that would be afforded to traditional taxi services. A failure on the province and municipalities in regulating these companies could potentially result in more employers searching for loopholes in employment law to cut corners and lower wages. Ride-hailing companies and others operating within the gig economy have the luxury of a workforce at the ready yet provide no rights or benefits to any of the workers that they employ.
The province themselves have highlighted the need to not create a second class of workers, yet when workers within the gig economy are sick, injured or otherwise unable to work, they cannot rely on any form of compensation to make it to the next paycheque.
“Creating a new class of workers with fewer rights/protections than employees, as this could entrench inequality by creating a second-class of predominantly racialized app-based workers that enjoy fewer rights and protections than employees”.
Many gig economy workers are racialized, immigrants, and often working through apps like Uber, Door Dash, and Lyft due to a lack of other employment opportunities. These are individuals who many of which are already in precarious living and employment conditions. The prevalence of the gig economy in our daily lives sends a resounding message that we need to invest more into supports for employment within the service sector. Not only should advocacy be moving towards better pay, but also towards the creation of less precarious working conditions, more upward social mobility and ensuring that we are bolstering a sustainable workforce.
The arrival of Uber in the region has generated excitement among those seeking an alternative to traditional taxis. However, the case from those opposed highlights the potential negative impacts on both climate and social equity efforts. It undermines public transportation, increases emissions within the city, and is generally counterproductive to reaching our sustainability goals. Furthermore, Uber's presence in the unregulated gig economy threatens worker rights and perpetuates inequality. Mobility for who, and at what cost?
This is the first blog in a series on transportation equity in the region.
Published: May 18, 2023
Khadoni Pitt Chambers, Research Coordinator
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