The Uber Debate

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Before we get started it’s important to keep in mind this is an opinion. Taking a taxi is a great way to get around the City of Ottawa. Right now though, the city is caught in a sort of a transition between proven ways and new ideas.

Getting around Ottawa can be a bit of a hassle, and for those that don’t own a vehicle it can be even more time consuming. I have lost count of the times a bus has either been late, early, or just plain absent. Getting a cab from the city’s west end to the market on a friday night can quickly get expensive, and with many people opting to use the service the wait times can grow long. Neither system is perfect, which leaves plenty of room for competition. When that competition shows up and starts becoming more popular, should it be outlawed?

Uber is all over the news these days, but what exactly is it? Powered almost completely by your cell phone, Uber connects you with regular people driving in cars that have registered to become Uber drivers. Becoming an Uber driver is as simple as filling out some information on Uber’s website, including your vehicle information, insurance information, and driver’s license information. This information confirms that you are who you say you are, and that you are legally able to drive in the province. This also prevents any fraud or shady business practices. I personally decided to sign up to become an Uber driver to see what all is required, and the process took less than 10 minutes. I could now go out and start earning money connecting with people and driving them across the city.

Uber OttawaGetting a ride with Uber is simple. From the associated Uber app on your phone, your GPS location is marked connecting you with the closest driver in your area. You then request a ride, and from the app you’ll be able to see where you driver is on a map, and you’ll be able to get a quote for how much your trip will cost. No watching the meter rise, no surprise “shortcuts” that jack up the price of the trip. When your vehicle arrives, you’ll receive a text notifying you it’s time to go. A credit card is required to use the Uber app, and when you arrive at your destination it’s automatically charged, which means when you get to your destination you simply exit the vehicle. If you’re riding with friends who use the Uber app, you can split the fare amongst them, and each person’s credit card will be charged equally. After your trip, you are able to leave a review and feedback for your driver, to let others know how your trip was. What all this adds up to is a cheaper and faster trip, all done from a few taps on your phone. So what’s the problem?

People are seeing how easy and efficient the system is, and are using it more. With more people opting to ride with Uber, taxis and busses are losing ground. The current arguments against Uber are unfounded and weak at best. Taxi unions are claiming that getting into vehicles with strangers can be dangerous. I don’t know any taxi drivers, so wouldn’t getting into any vehicle I don’t own be taking a ride from a stranger?

Another major argument is that Uber represents unfair competition and is bad for the local economy. Since Uber isn’t technically a “taxi” service (it’s a connection service), it doesn’t adhere to the same licenses and regulatory red-tape that a taxi service would. This means that local Governments are losing out on the profits from companies applying for and maintaining the licenses and taxes associated with operating a taxi service. You’ll be hardpressed to find anyone in this city who feels sympathetic for the Government not being able to charge taxes on something. That being said, tax dollars and other legislative fees go into public services, so if your Uber ride takes you down a bumpy, pothole filled road, then you’re partially to blame.

Uber does not hinder competition. Using this argument is foolish. Uber IS the competition, and they’re doing a much better job than the current options. Normally, when competition arises, competitors step their games up and do what they can to succeed. This is what’s known as the free market, and it’s has made up most modern economies for hundreds of years. Currently, the taxi union has lobbied the City of Ottawa to force police to crackdown on uber drivers, others at city hall agree, and think it’s worth putting officers on duty to ticket Uber drivers under bylaws.

Uber backlashThis is the problem. The city charges an exuberant amount to be a cab driver, and a lot of that cost is transferred to us when we book a cab. Cab drivers feel that they’re being undercut, and they are, but only because the overheads they face are so much higher vs someone who drives for Uber. We now have a city overcharging its cab drivers to simply exist, and then spending police resources to stop any competition threatening this monopoly. This debate isn’t between the taxi union and Uber, it’s between the way the city operates a business and the way a private company operates a business, and unfortunately, hard working taxi drivers are caught in the middle.

Incase you can’t tell, I’m pro-Uber. It represents competition, and putting a customer first, rather than profits. That being said, any service that launches in the city I live in that threatens to put its citizens out of work cannot go unchecked. There are ways these systems can co-exist, all while creating a wide arrange of options for people looking for a ride. The taxi licensing system is broken, so suggesting all Uber drivers become taxis won’t fix anything. All taxi drivers abandoning the traditional way and driving for Uber would also not work, as it’s likely the city would find a way to make it illegal rather than lose the profits. A solution for this problem isn’t easy, but it’s one that more and more Governments are going to have to face. Think down the road to electric autonomous cars used in rideshare programs, will the same taxi regulations apply?

I don’t have a solution for the problem that taxi and Uber drivers currently face. I don’t think taxi unions going on strike or having their union boss say that they’re going to hit the streets and “it’s going to be out of control” is a good place to start. For now, I will likely continue to take the path of least resistance in this matter, and opt to drive my own vehicle. For those of us who don’t have this option, make your voices heard. Right now, the entire mess is up in the air and it’s only a matter of time before it comes to a boiling point. Uber can be made legal, but it can also be shut down. The only way a decision can be made is if the people speak up.

What do you think of Uber arriving in Ottawa? Let us know!

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