Except from KEEP UBER OUT  BY

There’s been a renewed push for allowing Uber to operate in Halifax.

The pressure began to amp up in August after Corporate Research Associates (CRA) published the results of its “Urban Report” poll result, which found that 67 per cent of respondents in Halifax supported the introduction of Uber-like services. CRA did not say if Uber financed that portion of the poll.

Then, last week, Uber actively campaigned to get people to support Uber in a survey hosted by the city, reported Paul Palmeter for the CBC:

“We’ve used various ways, e-mail, social media, to let them know HRM is seeking their feedback,” said Chris Schafer, Uber Canada’s public policy manager. The deadline to complete the survey is Oct. 11.

Uber has sent that link to thousands of HRM residents who have used the Uber App in other places.

So much for a fair representation of citizens’ views.

But even without Uber placing its corporate thumb on the scale, it’s clear that a lot of people want Uber. But a lot of people want a lot of things; that doesn’t make them good policy.

I have no objection to Uber’s technology. Technology isn’t the issue here. (Casino Taxi’s app is great.) What’s at stake is driver pay and standards. On the latter, Globe & Mail editorialist Eric Andrew-Gee wrote a heart-wrenching account of the death of his friend Nick Cameron, who had used an Uber car to get to Pearson airport:

At first, the driver went the wrong way – east, away from the airport, all the way to Spadina. When he finally got turned around, he suggested taking city streets, rather than the highway. Nick and Monika urged him to take the Gardiner Expressway, by far the fastest route.

After a few minutes, the driver’s phone fell off his dashboard. He was using the phone’s GPS to navigate, so he pulled over. The shoulder at that part of the Gardiner, near Royal York Rd., is narrow — barely a car wide. People don’t pull over there unless their car has broken down.

When the driver had retrieved his phone, he merged back into traffic, apparently without checking his mirrors. A BMW smashed into them from behind. The rear left side of the Uber, where Nick was sitting, bore the brunt of the impact.

Nick was taken to the hospital without vital signs.

Andrew-Gee goes on to explain that safety training requirements for ride-share and taxi drivers have been abolished because Uber entered the market:

It turns out there isn’t any [safety training]. In the negotiations over Uber’s regulation two years ago, the city tried to placate cab companies worried about competition by levelling safety standards down, rather than up. That is, instead of imposing the same rules on Uber that the taxi firms faced, it eliminated most of the rules for everyone. A mandatory 17-day safety training course for cabbies was scrapped.

Now, ride-share chauffeurs in Toronto need only a regular driver’s licence, fewer than nine demerit points, no overdue by-law fines and no major criminal convictions or road infractions to their name.

Toronto’s peer cities all have more demanding safety regimes. In places as disparate as Montreal, Calgary, Chicago and New York, ride-share drivers have to undergo roughly the same combination of in-class safety lessons, written exams and road tests as taxi drivers. The length and stringency varies, but they all have some degree of training.

These cities have rejected Uber’s logic, which says the company offers lifts from friendly amateurs, not professional drivers, and that quality control can be maintained by a driver rating system that lets riders dole out stars for performance.

Nick’s case shows how flawed that thinking is. Being an Uber driver is demanding. You’re often working long shifts, during rush hour or at odd times of day; plying unfamiliar routes and navigating by GPS, which takes your attention away from the road; stopping and starting frequently to let out passengers; distracted by strangers in the back seat; and with the pressure of making good time to pick up the next fare. Given all these challenges, shouldn’t ride-share drivers be the best on the road?

I won’t detail the pay issues here, except to note that taxi driving has been the long-established route in particular for immigrants to gain a foothold in their adopted country; with Uber, that route no longer exists because the pay is shit.

I have friends and relatives driving for Uber. They think it brings a bit of extra income. I think they’re bad at math.

As I’ve pointed out before, Uber has offloaded all its costs — the drivers buy their cars and pay for their gas and maintenance. As contractors, there’s the issue of business insurance, or more to the point, the absence of business insurance, which may ultimately end up bankrupting many of them.

(This, incidentally, is why Uber’s hope for driverless cars is delusional, even if the technology somehow works out. Now, the company gets its drivers to pay for capital costs, maintenance, fuel, insurance, and labour. With driverless cars, the company itself will absorb all those costs and still expects to turn a profit. How does that make sense? If I could short Uber driverless car stock, I would. But I digress.)

It doesn’t make financial sense to drive for Uber except in the sense that you need money today, even if it means you’re essentially trading future costs for today’s income.

Sure, there’s a frightening large pool of desperately poor people out there who will take any work for even ultra-low wages, but surely we can do better than this.

Also, too, Uber is a horrible company.


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