The real threat of Uber goes well beyond taxis and how we hail a cab.
It goes to basic respect for the laws of the land, the willingness or ability of governments to enforce those laws, and to the responsibility we all bear to pay our taxes to support the kind of society we want for ourselves and our families.
At its heart, the problem with Uber is not only that it breaks the law, but that it does so with the tacit approval of our elected leaders — while those most directly hurt by Uber’s intrusion are held to a higher standard.
Last week, Toronto narrowly escaped traffic chaos with cancellation of a strike timed to the NBA All-Star game. The strike was called off when Toronto cabbies chose to respect the public by postponing their protest. It’s just too bad our governments refuse to show the same respect for the cabbies.
We now have a big multinational company coming in and deciding that the laws of the land don’t apply to it, and governments scrambling to accommodate it rather than enforce their laws.
Take Toronto Mayor John Tory, who continues to act irresponsibly by saying that Uber is here to stay and that industry and government must adjust — effectively encouraging the company to continue operating illegally while his council rewrites the laws to accommodate it.
Not only that, Tory warned that the full force of the law would be brought to bear against any drivers who participated in the planned protest against Uber.
Here we have the elected head of Canada’s largest municipality taking his time to consult on ways to rewrite the regulations so that one company, operating in open violation of his city’s own bylaws, can operate legally, while threatening legal action against those who work within the confines of the law.
In no other industry would it be acceptable for a company to continue breaking the law while the government fiddles.
If taxi drivers stopped paying fees, going for safety and environmental inspections, and started charging riders more than their regulated rates, they’d be taken off the road immediately. The laws and regulations governing the taxi industry evolved over time to reflect to reflect real safety needs and to protect riders — needs that still exist whether a cab is dispatched by an app on a phone.
Pricing is a good example. Cabbies are told how much they can charge as a protection for consumers against gouging when demand is high, or other situations. But Uber is permitted to use surge pricing whenever it sees fit and suddenly double or triple its prices — or even more.
In place of regulations that evolved over time, we now have a big multinational company coming in and deciding that the laws of the land don’t apply to it, and governments scrambling to accommodate it rather than enforce their laws.
No company should have that power. We have laws, and they must be enforced.
Cities across Canada are scrambling to come up with a patchwork of responses to Uber. That’s not good enough. To truly take this on, we need all sides in the issue — municipalities, the provinces, the federal government, cab companies and drivers — to come together and jointly develop a process to ensure a level playing field for both taxis and Uber in this country.
Municipalities regulate taxis. The provinces set the rules that municipalities work under and give them the tools to enforce their bylaws.
Ottawa has a stake in this, as well. Uber and its drivers are part of the underground economy, denying governments the revenue they need to fund health care and education, and to build the roads that both cabbies and Uber drivers use.
This underground economy in Canada takes $42 billion a year out of Canadian pockets. Allowing Uber to break the law not only adds to the underground economy, it legalizes the underground economy — and we can’t tolerate that as Canadians.
Taxes go to pay for such things as health care, law enforcement and all the things that make Canada such a great place to live. When big companies don’t pay their taxes, they put all that at risk.