Brian Lee Crowley

Breathtaking municipal hypocrisy over Uber across the land

Passengers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your dirty, expensive and surly taxi experience–at least that’s what I argued in my column today for the Ottawa Citizen (available here in a much expanded version to what appeared in the paper) as I looked at the truly appalling behaviour of cities across Canada in their struggle to keep Uber from spoiling their little taxi racket.

Uber is a smartphone ride-sharing app that allows people looking for a ride to connect instantly with available drivers. This technology is being rolled out around the industrialised world, including in various large Canadian cities.

High-tech ride-sharing represents a huge threat to the taxi industry, which is a cosy collusion between incumbent service providers and municipal governments. Cities limit the number of cabs, driving up the price of a taxi ride and creating inevitable shortages at periods of peak demand. In return the lucky owners of taxi permits give their political support to the chummy politicians who keep this game going. When Uber threatens their cosy racket, they cry “Attack on public safety” and try to shut ’em down.

But as I point out in the column, the problem is that Ottawa, like many cities, is an avid promoter of carpooling, which is indistinguishable from what Uber does, except Uber charges for its service and its drivers’ time. Oh, and Uber is much more effective at promoting ridesharing than cities are at promoting carpooling.

No wonder cities don’t like Uber but consumers do (-;

P.S. The reaction in the Twittersphere to my piece gave rise to the following, which is one of my all-time favourite exchanges:

Taxi guy: Your an idiot.

Me: I bow before your superior argument, but I will point out that at least I can spell (-;

Brian Lee Crowley
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