That’d Be What Uber Do

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

5 Responses to That’d Be What Uber Do

  1. Mark J. Richardson says:

    After almost 4-years of actually paying-attention to City Hall (*Blame Rob Ford), I have kind of reached the point with City Council where most of their regulations should be passed with a ‘SUNSET’ clause every 10 years – where if they can’t justify keeping it…that Regulation just goes away…

    Uber vs Taxi is just ONE example of “Regulate Something To The Point of Dysfunction” (*Cafe Patios, Fence-Heights, etc.) – when I agree Council should be spending vast Majority of it’s time on the BIG City Issues that people can’t do without a HUGE communal spend (*Public Housing, Transit, Water Treatment, etc).

    Uber vs Taxi is consuming a lot of Oxygen at City Hall because – like Food Trucks – it is something “tangible” that people can actually get their head-around…whereas a $2.6-Billion TCHC Repair Backlog is not.

  2. Lorna Schiralli says:

    Loved the premise of your article about Rob Ford rarely being right more times than a broken clock. But to be fair to the concept of “regulation by any government body” there are positives to what people refer to as “red tape”. It is not a frivolous waste of city council’s time in my opinion. They want to get it right for Torontonians. As well other municipalities are looking at Toronto as the model for their future. I will use another example to make my point. How about a family setting up a “meal delivery service” where the meal is made in their home. Like an Uberization of take out foodservice. Or even offering dinner parties held at their own home once a week for an admission fee. I would want my city to regulate and police these types of business. If only for health reasons.

    • Mark J. Richardson says:

      People are already doing that with PAID “Secret Supper Clubs” in Toronto…

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/great-food-behind-closed-doors/article17371971/

      …why do we need to get the Govt involved in that process..?

      • Lorna Schiralli says:

        Thank you Mark for that link. Yup it has already happened as I now see. I guess when it reaches critical mass somebody might take up a fight at hall. One of the commentators on these dinner parties quipped “Sounds like an unregulated industry just waiting for someone to get sued.” I guess cottage industries (home cleaner, lawn care services, construction workers) are left alone until regulated ones sense a financial loss. I remember a few years ago the hotel industry tried to go after airbnb and I don’t think they were successful.
        Anyways in this situation the critical mass has been achieved, so I hope Toronto gets it right. Someone’s nose will be out of joint.

  3. kay armatage says:

    You should know better than to slag folks who take cabs. Cabs make all the difference to a city that has minimal or overcrowded public transit. Cabs get private cars off the road, & therefore eliminate the need for downtown parking. In NYC cabs are all over the place & cheap, so Nobody takes a private car into Manhattan. We pay far too much for cabs in Toronto, & the licensed drivers know it. They’re all sufffering because the city regulates the prices & keeps them too high.

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