Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

By Karen Quinn Fung

January 17, 2018 at 8:40 AM

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Ride-hailing and Autonomous Vehicles: Considerations for Vancouver

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Woman holds phone and waits on street as taxis pass.

On January 17, Vancouver City Council will be receiving a report titled, “Vancouver’s Mobility Future: ‘Automating’ Policy into Sustainable Results.” In this post, we want to highlight some perspectives on the impacts ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles (AV) are expected to have on transportation, combining others’ work with our own observations of public space in Vancouver.

There’s lots of excitement for how ride-hailing — the technical term for the service provided by technology network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft and Uber — and AV can make getting around more reliable, less painful, and more sustainable.

We agree that the potential benefits are huge. But we would also like to see the enthusiasm balanced with two things: (1) the city and region’s existing approaches to moving around, especially what works and what’s challenging about the transportation system we currently have; and (2) an equally thorough review of both other cities and regions’ experiences, and the way their experiences are or aren’t applicable to Metro Vancouver’s streets and transportation as they already are.


The streamlined experience of ride-hailing through mobile apps holds a lot of appeal when trips and travel are full of annoyances and uncertainties. Apps often simplify fare payment, making it clear how much a trip will cost right at the outset, and they provide people with real-time information like how long it will take for ride to arrive. Ride-hailing has an important role to play in the mix of travel options — during times of day or in locations when other modes of transportation like public transit or taxis are unavailable or inconvenient.

In practice, however, ride-hailing has also been contentious in other jurisdictions, for a variety of reasons: from providing trips to people with disabilities or require accommodation; to the privacy and confidentiality of trip information; to the safety and conditions for drivers and their vehicles, wages and labour conditions, and personal safety of passengers.

We look forward to a Vancouver ride-hailing policy that does two things in particular:

  1. Learn from other cities’ experiences, while keeping Vancouver’s goals in mind. As exciting as the new options are, our longstanding goals to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) while growing, and to make healthy and sustainable transportation options competitive with car travel aren’t any less worthwhile or key to a livable and sustainable region. Let’s ask the right questions for what matters for Vancouver, based on what we know about how ride-hailing has changed the game in other places.
  2. Work with providers to answer our collective questions about the impacts of ride-hailing. Let’s make sure we have the data and information to know who’s winning or losing, and exactly how, as a result of new options for trips. This information is vital for responding to new potential problems in a reasonable timeframe.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)

Cars that drive themselves sound like a dream: door-to-door service without the stress, worry or strain that comes with having to operate a vehicle. Many cite the safety benefits of fewer collisions between cars (or between cars and other road users), but are also excited about being able to make car trips available to those who can’t drive and for whom transit is not viable or possible.

Similar with ride-hailing, we encourage any policy anticipating the availability of AVs, to consider and monitor transportation-wide effects, such as induced demand. This is especially important as AVs will likely be adopted by different categories of road users, as well as individual users themselves, incrementally, with AVs sharing the roads and roadspace with a wide variety of vehicles and users.

In consideration of streets as public spaces, we further want to highlight that both AVs and ride-hailing will have impacts on trip destinations and origins, in addition to their benefits to the travel portion of a trip. We look forward to seeing how policies managing curbside pick-up and drop-off will anticipate conflict and ways to work with stakeholders and the public to manage this. This will be particularly important in places where we are in the process of building complete streets, as AVs will need to integrate with other vital street functions such as pedestrian movement, protected bike lanes, goods movement, parking, car share, bike share and other street furniture.

In particular, we also want to see policies that continue to prioritize and invest in sustainable transportation opportunities. Autonomous Vehicles could provide an opportunity to reduce some of the inefficiencies associated with our current cultural preference for individual ownership of vehicles, thus freeing up valuable road-space. But if everyone rushes out to buy an AV at the same rate they buy cars nowadays, then we may well see only limited gains.

In short: there are a great number of potential benefits to both ride-hailing and AVs. Let’s move forward to realize those benefits, without compromising what’s working about our transportation system already, and position ourselves to react swiftly as we learn about its real impacts.

Further Reading

Photo: Duane Romanell.

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