Ride-hailing can play an important role in Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation system if done right

Ride-hailing can play an important role in Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation system if done right

As we all know, ride-hailing is coming to B.C. sometime soon. The advantage of being a late adopter is that we can learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions to develop a model that complements our transportation goals for the region. 

Recent research has shown that ride-hailing has contributed to congestion and hurt transit ridership in many cities. And that’s the last thing anyone wants to see in Metro Vancouver. Nevertheless, the public is demanding ride-hailing and if introduced smartly, can create new mobility options for the region.  

Some people may be surprised to learn that TransLink is advocating for a progressive approach to ride-hailing. As an agency committed to improving mobility in all forms, we are gearing up to create new mobility partnerships with ride-hailing companies. 

For some time, we have been convening experts to help us shape our thinking around future new mobility partnerships, including most recently David Zipper, an American urban mobility expert, who shared his observationsabout opportunities for Metro Vancouver. 

The reality is, transit can’t be everywhere for everyone and ride-hailing can help fill gaps in service. For example, late at night on the weekends to move people in and out of the downtown core, or to provide those first-mile/last-mile connections to and from the closest transit stop, or to supplement HandyDART service. We want to explore opportunities to collaborate with new mobility partners to get people moving around no matter the time of day, where they’re going, or accessibility needs. 

Last week, TransLink’s Vice President of Policy and Planning Geoff Cross and I presented at the BC Government’s Select Standing Committee on Crown Corporations’ hearing on ride-hailing for the second time. This year, the hearing focused on how to regulate ride-hailing companies when they finally arrive in our province. 

We are urging the province to strike a balanced regulatory approach that allows for new services where and when there is demand, for people of all means and abilities and without increasing traffic congestion. 

TransLink has three main recommendations for the committee: 

  • Avoid over-restrictive service boundaries 
  • Use variable per-trip fees to help minimize potential to increase traffic congestion and use proceeds to incent or subsidize other mobility improvements 
  • Allow ride-hailing services the freedom to adjust their fares dynamically 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these. 


Boundaries, like the ones we see currently in the taxi industry, are at the root of a problem cab customers complain about most. Many people get stuck trying to find a cab driver in Vancouver who will agree to take them home to the suburbs. These boundaries distort supply – service concentrates in certain areas like downtown Vancouver. Trips are refused because drivers don’t want to waste time dead-heading back to their assigned area when they could be picking up another fare. Dead-heading is inefficient and increases congestion as drivers take up road space on the return trip without a customer on board. 

In the past, most trips happened within a home municipality, but times have changed. Our research shows that outside of Vancouver, most trips cross municipal boundaries. Boundaries for ride-hailing and other transportation network services should be avoided to reflect the dynamic nature of where people travel. 

Variable per-trip fees 

Some have suggested placing a cap on the number of ride-hailing vehicles to mitigate the risk of new ride-hailing services causing increased traffic congestion. But hard caps once more leave us with the same limitations we see with the current taxi industry: caps artificially limit supply. We will end up with not enough service at busy times and too much at other times, like the middle of the day. 

Variable per-trip fees are one tool which could provide economic incentives to shift the supply of ride-hailing vehicles away from times when roads are already congested (and public transit is readily available) and toward times when transit options are scarcer – late at night, for example.   

The funds collected through the fees could potentially be put directly into creating incentives for more vehicles in times and locations where transit is not available, or increasing the availability of vehicles for people with accessibility needs. This revenue neutral idea can help increase the availability and choices for more people, while helping minimize potential negative impacts. 

Dynamic pricing 

Ride-hailing services should be able charge higher rates in times of high demand. But customers should know what they’re getting into. This flexible fare structure should be transparent, so riders can make informed choices for how they travel. 

Thinking about the future 

We are in a unique position in B.C. Being one of the last jurisdictions in North America to move forward, we can learn best practices from other places. 

With our recommendations and the right balance of regulations, ride-hailing services can work together with transit for the benefit of everyone. 

Ride-hailing, if done right, has the potential to make getting around the region easier for all of us, drivers, transit users and ride-hailers alike.