Will we have an Uber city or a great one?

by | Dec 11, 2015 | Opinion

Malcolm Campbell
News Editor

People love an underdog story, a David versus Goliath fight, and at first this seemed like just that, but now it’s just confusing.

The ongoing conflict between Toronto’s taxi drivers and Uber came to a head Wednesday with a twelve hour protest in the heart of the city.

There were numerous hotspots, reports of confrontations between taxi drivers and their Uber equivalents and unending gridlock, a small wrinkle in the taxi union’s public relations campaign.

While the protest did its job, everyone is talking about this issue now, public opinion has definitely shifted in favour of the ride-share app. It may have been better for the drivers to strike without blocking city streets, showing what would happen in the city with no taxis available, without creating animosity with the citizenry.

We live in a time when whatever works best for the consumer is the best option no matter the consequences. It seems we forget that consumers are also workers, and with lower prices come lower wages.

In some cases we fight developers and multi-national corporations trying to affect large, destructive change in our backyards.

Last winter, developer RioCan gave up on its proposal to build a Wal-Mart in the Kensington Market neighbourhood after a sustained push by the community to stop the big-box store from moving in.

One of the principle concerns was the plight of mom and pop shops that would be harshly affected. The city’s car wars can be looked at in the same vein.

Uber has come into the city, taken millions of fares from cab drivers, and laughed in the face of regulators as the company offered to pay for tickets their drivers received from Toronto Police.

The company’s drivers also consistently violate commercial auto insurance rules.

Having options in a market is a good thing, but this goes beyond competitive advantage. The average Uber driver made just over $3,000 in the first year of its existence in Toronto, largely because few of the drivers are professional, full-time workers.

This puts city council and the citizens of Toronto in a moral quandary.

Do we stand up to the big, multi-national corporation trying to take advantage of an archaic vehicle licensing system, or just accept that professional drivers will no longer exist, and take cheaper rides with more risk?

A final option is to overhaul the antiquated plate system that has created much of the mess we’re dealing with today.

Until Uber arrived, standard taxi plates in Toronto had been steadily increasing in cost, fetching as much as $360,000.

This had essentially turned the city’s taxi industry into a feudalistic system where drivers were forced to pay permit-holders for the right to use their plate.

Permit-holders have also historically been opposed to reform, as they hold a position of power in the system.

They are now the silent backers of the battle against Uber. Luckily for them a frontline of drivers is here to lead the charge.

Taxi drivers must realize Uber is not the enemy, but the public needs to realize Uber is not the solution.

If the city got serious about reforming the limousine and taxi by-laws, making it easier for people to enter the industry, and forced ride-share app to bend to regulators demands there could be a solution.

However reform takes time and effort, and Uber has the resources, and public support to slow, or stop any possible changes.

In short it’s up to us, we can have an Uber city, or a great one.