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As decisions go, it wasn’t uber

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. 



# RE: As decisions go, it wasn’t uberJeff 2015-09-23 02:55
There are already cases in Canada, not to mention elsewhere, of Uber drivers being involved in accidents and neither they nor their passengers are covered by the driver's normal insurance, which doesn't cover commercial usage of the vehicle. That alone is reason enough to prevent Uber from operating in London. There have also been cases of Uber drivers assaulting passengers. There are no in-car cameras, no police background checks. That's another very good reason to ban Uber from London.
That said, there ARE changes that must be made to the taxi licensing system in London. It should be illegal to resell a license. If a driver quits, he should have to turn his licence back in to the city. Ending the black market in taxi licenses would go a long way to improving the taxi industry in London. The city doesn't allow other types of business to resell their licenses in this way and there's no reason to continue to allow it for taxis.
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# Uber is about competitionKeith E. Risler 2015-09-23 03:19
The opposition to Uber has no credibility. Uber's service is hardly an ideal service in itself. A good taxi ride at a good price is still saleable. When I was in university the economics course painted taxi licensing as an anti-competitiv e exercise that keeps fares jacked up. The Prof. teaching the course noted that in North America before municipal licensing locked up the market there used to be people offering transport services with vehicles at fair prices. Uber may end the era of over-priced personal transport. A ride is a ride; we buyers care not what the service is or is not in technical terms. Get over it Councillors. Get with the 21st Century.
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# Who Cares>jmac 2015-09-23 03:30
Another time stealing issue brought to you by the media and city council.
All I hear is Charlie Brown waugh waugh waugh.
Make a decision and move on.
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# UberX, the Giant Vacuum CleanerBarry Wells 2015-09-23 03:54
Uber and its UberX subidiary is a San Francisco-based , international conglomerate funded by internatonal venture capitalist-inve stors including Goldman Sachs, the Qatar Investment Authority (Middle East) and China's Baidu corporate conglomerate. It's currently valued at about $51B.

UberX hoovers money out of local economies like a giant vacuum cleaner, far more than it puts in, by creaming 20% and up from the drivers' fares based on both predatory pricing and surge pricing.

It's like the Wal-Mart of the Taxi business, but without proper commercial insurance, properly vetted drivers and municipal licensing.

Welcome to the New World Order of unbridled Greed without checks and balances.
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# Taxi Wars 2015Barry Wells 2015-09-23 04:17
For unschooled newcomers to London's never-ending Taxi Wars, London, Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America (and likely the world) where executive-class , sedan limousines operate as de-facto taxicabs accepting street flags — without a licence cap. And that's a good thing arrived at during a previous round of the Cab Wars from 1990-1994.

Simply stated, anyone can acquire as many executive-class limousine plates from city hall as they want at $750 each (annually) to do taxi work, providing they have a recent-year, four-door luxury vehicle with commercial auto insurance for each limo plate.

So there's an unlimited supply of limo licences for enterprising entrepreneurs, unlike the "restricted entry" of the local cab industry with a waiting list for $750 taxi licences in the city clerk's office nearly three decades long. The only other way to obtain a cab plate is to fork over a large satchel chock-full of large bills to purchase a cab plate from a willing seller. Thanks to UberX, however, that large satchel is reportedly getting smaller, which is good as well.
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# UberX's business modelBarry Wells 2015-09-23 04:23
Demonstrating UberX's bad faith when it comes to operating in the public interest is the following excerpted paragraph from a recent online article in a Mubai, India (pop. 18.5 million) newspaper:

"In a September 10 [2015] update of its terms and conditions, Uber has blatantly denied any responsibility for the safety, quality or reliability of its service. In fact, the app-based cab aggregator goes as far as to ask passengers to acknowledge that ‘Uber does not provide transportation or logistics services or function as a transportation carrier,' and shifts all liability onto ‘independent third-party contractors’ or the drivers."


An absurd policy for Uber to adopt since the well-establishe d legal doctrine of vicarious liability trumps their desire to shirk their responsibilitie s to their paying customers, drivers and the general public.
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# RE: As decisions go, it wasn’t uberGuest 2015-09-23 04:29
Would someone explain why a company that provides part time (5 hours a week) to increase someone's income from 35,000 to $40,000. thus possibly forcing full time employees out of work in a city regulated industry is a good thing?
First time I saw the Chair of a Committee and a non-member of the committee (who support Urber) push their agenda. Noting, the Chair always interpreted what someone was asking rather than let them speak and when a member moved the question be put which is not debatable the Chair proceeded to do otherwise! This was the first time I saw a non member not only ask questions but debated the issues. According to Council rules any Councillor can attend committee meeting ask questions, enter debate but cannot vote. The risk here is if there is 8 Councillors attending meeting and those that can't vote indicate their intention then a majority of Councillors support issue and would vote at same at full Council. This means public input is compromised. Permission to speak isn't necessary Councillors have the right.
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# RE: As decisions go, it wasn’t uberJ. David Scott 2015-09-23 08:05
Makes absolutely no difference to me. I'll continue to use Checker... Prompt, friendly, professional, clean and unionized. No decision required.
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# Is Uber bringing down the sky?Leila Paul 2015-09-23 15:09
Barry Well's comments contain some valid points, but the issues about which Barry complains, e.g., "UberX hoovers money out of local economies like a giant vacuum cleaner" is an overstatement and also fails to recognize that is the case with nearly every aspect of our consumer economy. The generic label "globalization" takes the majority of benefits and keeps decision-makers distant and out of our access.

Uber is only a small aspect of what's happening and does not merit verbal storms and fury for it is too late to turn back the tide of many trends. We have forfeited many aspects of local autonomy and decision-making and much of our revenue is on the one-way flow outwards.

Limitations can be imposed on Uber drivers if insurance companies take a punitive stand against Uber drivers who do not acknowledge their commercial activities upfront. Driver licensing may also need to be modified while provincial legislation may ensure safer service.

Cities should be focused on more limited issues, such as foundational services while infrastructure demands are growing even as they age. Focus on priorities.
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# Honeymoon is over councillors!Leila Paul 2015-09-23 15:19
Councillors have been described as rookies and while the time they've been in office defies that as a valid term, they are now long past the time they must demonstrate their abilities to get things done.

The city needs some hard decisions made and many councillors are still acting as though they're in campaign mode.

ladies and gentlemen - you got the job you asked for. Now start performing and demonstrate the acute perceptions needed and the spine to take the actions required. Eliminate showboating and quickly deal with distractions. Identify and refine a small and manageable set of priorities and concisely lay out plans to accomplish positive corrections to an aimless ship that is buffeted one way or the other by any breeze or blowhard wind that provides a grandstand.

Another thing that must be left to London police to determine is carding. LPS knows what they're facing and they're the ones who must prevent, contain or solve the issues in which they specialize. Get off that contentious issue.

Deliver serious work. Your rookie period is long past over. Prove to voters if you are competent.
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# Wailing over Uber while thousands of jobs at GDLS under threatLeila Paul 2015-09-30 16:30
While we fiddle over Uber, we could be losing thousands more jobs. Keep that in mind as you listen to the peace posturing of either the naive or the deceitful.

Tom Mulcair and Trudeau are bleating about peace while ignoring that people throughout human history take what they want without asking permission so defence is crucial. Trudeau and Mulcair in their latest pulpit orations about peace are risking future jobs because every aspect of arms sales involves a number of components that are not obvious.
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# Uber is inevitable. So are job losses if GDLS is singled outLeila Paul 2015-09-30 16:35
Human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia are minimal compare to the slaughtering by ISIS. If Saudi Arabia fell to ISIL (or ISIS) the meaning of true human abuses we could know firsthand would pale in comparison to what occurs in Saudi.

Saudi Arabia is one ally that will keep terrorists from expanding their battlefields. Saudis also employ huge numbers of workers from impoverished countries who'd otherwise likely be on a similar massive migrant trek to western countries in search of money by any means.

GDLS employs thousands of people here at home - those directly in the plant as well as all the spin off companies reliant on GDLS. If Mulcair and Trudeau destroy Canada's ability to sell equipment to allies in the mideast then other countries would gladly take those jobs away from Londoners.
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