It has been years since I was in a Toronto taxicab. The last time I was in one, it was too expensive, the driver was rather discourteous and the ride was pretty dangerous (slamming of the brakes and high speeds). Even today, I notice taxicabs performing illegal stunts on the road – I was nearly run over by a cab in Leaside as he drove through a red light a couple of months ago.
Taxicabs aren’t necessarily the safest drivers around. They are often ridiculed by other drivers and pedestrians for wreaking havoc on roads, endangering the lives of others and being quite rude to their fellow motorists. Indeed, there are a lot more negatives than positives when it comes to the taxi industry, at least in Toronto.
For some reason, the city of Toronto has now suddenly celebrated the cab industry and has sided with them on banning Uber, the ultra popular ride-sharing program that allows consumers to save money to travel certain distances. It’s another innovation in the free market, and these types of peer-to-peer services are here to stay.
Ostensibly, Uber and others like it provide intense competition to the establishment taxi industry, one that frequently launches crusades against outside competitors all in the supposed name of public safety and consumer protections. This week, Toronto’s licensing department launched a court injunction to stop the ride-sharing service because they want to protect the public’s safety.
That’s quite the larf.
Anyone with two eyes and one brain can fathom that the only reason the city is railing in opposition to Uber is because they’re not getting revenues from businesses like Uber. Toronto garners tens of thousands of dollars from taxi licenses, a sum of cash they’re losing out on because Uber is not playing ball, nor should they be required to.
If city hall could at least be honest that the reason why they’re campaigning against Uber is because of financial reasons then there could be some sympathy for them. Well, not much sympathy, but at least appreciating their honesty. Maybe?
It was a welcomed surprise this week when Toronto mayor-elected John Tory came out in favor of Uber and proclaimed that Uber is “here to stay.” I thought he would surely expostulate because of his cronyist nature, but instead he accused regulators of being invidious.
“You sit down [with the operators] and sort these things out,” said Tory. “But you don’t sort them out from the premise that says these applications are going away, that we’re going to go back to the way things were before.
“We have to work something out that protects public safety and makes sure we have fair competition but also doesn’t try to pretend something like Uber is just going to go away because it’s not.”
Uber is a splendid market innovation that is scaring the establishment, elite and status quo. Much like how Airbnb is terrifying the hotel industry, which is now using its vast resources and connections to government officials to shut them down, Uber is slowly metastasizing into an enemy of the state and cabbies, and these taxi firms are using their power to encourage the government to take coercive action.
Cities all over the globe are introducing bans on Uber, citing, once again, public safety. Let’s be honest: Uber maintains a much better screening process for drivers than cab drivers, mostly due to one reason: the market. Users can write reviews and rate the experience, which can then prompt others to either use or avoid that specific person – vice versa for the drivers.
It’s about time the insouciant taxi industry woke up from its antiquated business model. Let’s praise Uber for its innovation. Let’s face it: if it isn’t Uber then it’ll be another enterprise or idea that will bring about change with immense alacrity.
This reminds me of the old Groucho Marx joke: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”