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Uber Allies

I am what you would call a late adoptor. In no way am I anti-tech. I have a smart phone. I know my way around the internets. lateadaptorMy music is all digital.

But I know I just barely scratch the surface of it all. There is so much more I could be doing, to my advantage. It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t say that proudly. It’s just a matter of fact. I use what comes easily to me. Let’s call it ‘tech lazy’. (I’m sure there’s an actual term for that I’m just not aware of.)

I know even less about the taxi industry here in Toronto. My cab trips are few and far between. One is usually around when I want it. I have no solid price comparison with many other places to know if we’re being gouged or not. My main interaction with the city’s cab happens when one nearly knocks me down or cuts me off in a bike lane when I’m riding around.

There was a big debate this past term at City Hall about taxi licensing. People wearing opposing coloured shirts. I think it had much to do with who owned what kind of license or something or other. Frankly, I tuned out. Let’s call it politically lazy. Since it didn’t have much impact on my life, I couldn’t really be bothered.

So imagine my surprise, sitting here, writing something about a ‘car-summoning’ internet application, Uber, being hit with a cease and desist injunction by the city’s licensing staff for its continued disregard of taxi rules and regulations. Oh wow. Tech versus taxi. How deliciously dull.

Look. I have no reason to suspect that Toronto’s bureaucracy isn’t stodgy and slow-moving in its bid to maintain the status quo. We only have to look at something like the great food truck debate last year as proof of that. Certainly, the staff’s claim of safety concerns in seeking the court injunction ring, I don’t know, a little hollow and manipulative.

And there’s little question too that there are some very vested interests in the taxi game here in town who are well looked after as their phalanx of lobbyists at City Hall can attest to. An argument could be made (by someone much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am) that serious, serious reform is needed. A real shake-up might be nice.

Is Uber the one to do it?

Maybe. I don’t know. I guess we’re going to find out.

Meanwhile, they’ve been breaking the rules in conducting their business in Toronto. 35 by-law infractions, I believe it is to date. They’ve simply ignored them, and carried on carrying on. Toronto is not alone in coping with the new reality introduced by Uber. The company has tended to run afoul of the authorities in many of the places it touches down (as well as some it hasn’t even arrived at yet.)

Somehow though, the city has become the bad guy in all of this.

Even more disturbing is how, to many, the corporate titan Uber has become some sort of saviour. The necessary oomph needed to whip the bureaucracy into 21st-century shape. A righteous vigilante, stepping up, busting heads and taking questions later.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, am I right?

Fine. Renegade away. But spare me the indignation when there’s some official pushback. You want to flout the law? Deal with the fallout.

Couldn’t the city’s injunction against Uber be something other than just a luddite reaction to shut the service down and box out the future from coming? The company is clearly content to continue ignoring the law, shrugging off each and every bylaw infraction notice. Maybe the injunction is just a shot across the company’s bow. Do we have your attention now, Uber?

You know, if maybe this was some actual David and Goliath fight, I could get more behind it. If it struck me as a justifiable bit of civil disobedience that was out to right some sort of wrong, to make the lives of everyone involved – owners, drivers, customers – better, maybe I might be more sympathetic. Right now, however, it only seems like, I don’t know, more corporate disobedience. I’m a lot less comfortable with that.

There’s a real strain of libertarian thought coursing through the politics of this. If we can do it, why can’t we? Who are you to tell me how, where and when I can grab a cab? Why should some bureaucrat determine what and what isn’t a taxi? Damn your restraints on innovation!

Technology trumps governance.

What the fuck is wrong in saying, look, there are rules and regulations in place here. Obviously, they need to be re-thought according to current realities. Let’s take a step back and sort through this. How can we best try to accommodate everyone’s best interests in this?

Uber doesn’t seem that interested in accommodation. As Ted Graham, “innovation leader at PWC, a professional services network”, told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, Uber’s approach seems to be to flood a market, build up consumer demand and let the chips fall where they may. We’re here. Deal with it. Tellingly, Mr. Graham avoided answering Galloway’s question about why the onus to adapt should be on the regulators and not the company.

Because… Disruption!

Clearly the plan is working. Many have come to Uber’s defence from a consumer’s standpoint. It’s convenient. For me. It’s cheaper. For me. Why should I have to play by some company’s rules? I want this service. You can’t stop me from having this service. This is the future. You can’t stop the future.

Yeah well, you don’t necessarily have to hand over the keys to the future no questions asked. Who said the future has to be free of regulation and oversight? Grateful consumers not concerned citizens.

stubbornly submitted by Cityslikr

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