REPORT #1,126: Uber, the app builder come transportation network, wants London to endorse the way it does business by making significant changes to the existing taxi and limousine bylaw. A city council committee has decided otherwise.
Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 – London Ontario
Uber, uber, uber.
It means, über does or did, ‘increased elevation’ or ‘over’ or ‘above’ in German, from whence it comes. In English its meaning has morphed to define something that exceeds the norms or limits of its class, in other words ‘awesome’ or ‘super’ or ‘very, very cool’. As in the uber-talented movie or sports star, or uberdude or uberbabe for an attractive young man or woman.
The word migrated from Germany to the international mainstream, apparently, when an American punk band, the Dead Kennedys, used the term in the anti-Californian government song California Uber Alles, which was a takeoff of the German motto of Deustchland Uber Alles, (translation ‘Germany above all’).
Of course, the word has since been misappropriated by a San Francisco tech company that developed an application to ring billions of dollars out of the so-called ride-share idea. This new Uber is, for all intents and purposes, a taxi company. But it refuses to acknowledge such bureaucratic concepts, hiding instead behind a claim as a software developer, or more recently as a transportation network company (TNC).
What Uber is unquestionably is a game-changer for the vehicles-for-hire section of the transportation industry, one that has taxi operators in a frenzy and their enabling co-dependents, municipal governments, in a quandary.
Uber has come to London. With the Uber app on your smartphone you can summons a ride and have the cost automatically billed to your credit card. The app will tell you the driver’s name and car, when it will arrive and how much you’re paying. And what you’re paying will, in most cases, be considerably less than what a licensed cab would charge.
Young people, in particular, love Uber – which would explain why Uber Canada opened up shop in the Forest City just before the arrival of 50,000 university and college students, its bread-and-butter customer base. But so do a growing number of oldsters who’ve tried the service in big cities elsewhere and discovered it is not quite the devil often characterized. If anything, if worldwide anecdotes are to be believes, Uber’s contract drivers provide better, friendly and more accommodating service than just about any taxi company.
Uber is a devil of sorts, however; of that there is no denying. The question is whether this is one we can live with.
Tuesday night at city council’s community and protective services committee meeting, Uber was the central subject of discussion. Again. On the table was another stand-firm report from the administration. A clear indication of what the city thinks should be done to accommodate Uber’s desire to play here legally, howbeit with different rules, was offered in the first paragraph of a 3,200-word report from the civic administration. It said: “. . . the civic administration be requested to report back on licensing regulations . . .”
This should have, but didn’t, immediately cause the committee to move, second and pass the report since there didn’t seem much stomach for real change. Instead those attending or watching on the live feed from City Hall were subjected to a 90-minute charade (divided by a dinner break for committee members) of posturing, politicking and pranking that, in the end, resolved . . . nothing.
A suggestion from Councillor Jesse Helmer (Ward 4), who is not a member of the committee, that staff be asked to draft rules for a third-tier to the existing taxi and limousine bylaw that would accommodate Uber, was defeated 3-2.
Councillor Bill Armstrong (Ward 2) led the charge against Uber, repeating over and over and over that to change “could have devastating effect. We have a system,” he said, “you either support it or you support what I’d call free enterprise. This would be total deregulation of this industry and it would have serious consequences.”
Oh yes, eventually the motion to ask for more information did pass. It will go to the full council next week where, undoubtedly, Councillor Helmer will try again.
On the one hand, the city seems determined to defend the indefensible – its decades-long control of the taxi business which has essentially turned it into cartel that benefits a few owners largely, some drivers small-ly, while picking the pockets of those in London who use taxis and their slightly-less-regulated cousins, limousines.
Uber has clearly shown it can be done far better for less. But London, as is the case in scores of cities around the world, seems determined to jam this Genie back in the box and make us pay for the outrage.
Ain’t gonna happen. Not here ultimately, not anywhere. Oh Uber may (and should) eventually face some rules and restrictions, most particularly on the issue of driver insurance. But the taxi business as we currently know it in London, as elsewhere, is about to change dramatically.
As it should. There is no reason why taxis, of all things, are the most regulated and controlled aspect of urban life. On a per use basis, your chances of getting very sick or dying from eating at a restaurant are far greater than riding a cab. Yet anyone can start a restaurant, all you need is a city business license and a passing inspection from the health unit.
To get a taxi license check out this link to discover what you need.
As a technical achievement, the way the ride-procuring app invented by Uber works, is genius. But this is not to say the way Uber is going about forcing it on society is right or, as Councillor Armstrong warns, without serious consequence.
It marks a significant alteration of our society, and not probably in a totally good way. Before you book your next ride you might want to read this disturbing piece from Sunday’s edition of The Guardian.
If that view of the future is even a little bit true, Uber the company may turn out to be the cause of far more rules and restrictions than those that now bind the taxi business. If so you might say that would be very un-uber.