That’d Be What Uber Do

October 1, 2015

I vowed not to write about Uber or cabs or taxi reform ever again. I did. Because I just don’t care. vowofsilenceI can’t muster the interest or… the energy to even finish that sentence.

But then something happened yesterday at city council which presented me with a situation I never thought I’d find myself writing. Rob Ford, Councillor Rob Ford, I’m writing, still donning his Sopranos track suit for whatever reason, stood up to ask questions of Mayor Tory, and the councillor – are you ready? – actually made sense.

Paraphrasing here, the councillor riddled the mayor this.

Does an Uber car and a taxi do the “exact same job”?

To which Mayor Tory responded: “You know full well that is a complicated question.”

To which I thought: Is it? Is it really that complicated a question?

The mayor did later admit that, yes, an Uber car and cab both provide a service of picking customers up, dropping them off where they want to go and charging for that service. How they go about delivering that service is different but it is basically the same service. yesornoThat’s really the crux of this debate.

No doubt this is pure bullshit politics on Councillor Ford’s part. Ideologically speaking, he should be an Uber champion. Down with regulation! Slash the red tape! The customer is always right! Let the market, the FREE market, decide!

But since Mayor Tory has displayed a certain friendliness to the corporation, the councillor must stand against it. You can never agree with an adversary unless it’s on your terms, unless it’s them agreeing with you. That’s just how you play politics according to the Ford doctrine.

The fact is, by every measure immediately apparent to me, Uber is a livery company, “A business that offers vehicles, such as automobiles or boats, for hire.” How you go about summoning someone to come and whisk you away to your destination, whether it’s a concierge whistle, a street corner hail, a telephone call or smartphone app, doesn’t alter the kind of business you’re doing. A livery business. A business that offers vehicles, such as automobiles or boats, for hire.

Councillor Rob Ford was right. Uber and the cab companies do the “exact same job”. liveryDoes Uber do the job better? Hundreds of thousands of Uber allies will zealously tell you it does. Is the taxi industry in this town monopolistic and in desperate need of reform? Again, hundreds of thousands of Uber allies (and general all-round not-fans of the industry) will zealously tell you, yes. Yes, it does.

I’ve got no opinion either way on that. Like I said, I can’t find two fucks to rub together to flint a spark of interest about it. That we’re spending so much time on an issue that is of such importance to people who apparently can’t make their way around this city without paying someone to chauffeur them is galling. Our sense of civics has shrunken to little more than Can I Get This Cheaper and I Want It To Be More Convenient. For me.

All politics is personal, as they say.

Whatever.

But this is what Uber does. The corporation imposes itself, city by city, sucking up all the political oxygen. With heavy lobbyist clout, it becomes important, vital, a mayor’s key item.

It’s anything but. Uber’s just another livery business, picking people up, dropping people off, charging a fee to do it. shhhhThe model may be different, it may be better. It still does the “exact same thing” any other taxi business does. Rob Ford was right.

So do the rest of us a favour and at least own it. Stop pretending it’s about anything other than that. Technology changes everything. The “sharing” economy. The 21st-century. The future! Progress!

And can we please start talking about something else now?*

 

(*Apparently not. Actual regulation of Uber, and Uber-like services won’t be put on the table now by city staff until early next year. Much more waste of time, energy and breath to come.)

unenthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr