Let Canadians decide if they want Uber

Bureaucrats are stifling innovation in order to promote entrenched interests.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

It’s a touch ironic that news of a Toronto Police sting operation against Uber occurred on the same day as video footage surfaced showing Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) cops beating up passengers on a subway platform for no apparent reason. The police are cracking down on Toronto’s alternative to public transit, at a time when transit itself in becoming increasingly unappealing.

The justification behind the crackdown on Uber drivers is that the service is illegal and drivers don’t have the proper government permits. The truth is, Uber is only illegal because arbitrary laws have not caught up with the times.

A decade ago, a few neighbors talking at a barbecue may have realized they work in adjacent buildings downtown, and happen to drive to and from work at roughly the same time each day. For convenience, these acquaintances may decide to carpool and share the costs of commuting. Do they need special licensing or insurance designed for carrying passengers?

When I was in high school, I used to drive my friends all around town; in exchange, they would occasionally chip in for gas, help cover my insurance costs, or sometimes, they’d just buy me lunch. Was I operating an illegal taxi service?

Apparently, judging by the Uber crackdown, I was.

Much like Uber, these are examples of peer-to-peer ridesharing. This is exactly what occurs when you hail a car using Uber. The only difference is, in 2015, these interactions are initiated online. Ridesharing apps utilize technology to fast track the peer-to-peer matchup.

The results are truly revolutionary.

Ridesharing apps make it possible for urban dwellers to ditch their cars. I don’t own a car, neither does my husband, and we have no plans to buy one anytime soon. Knowing you can get from point A to point B without worrying about parking or transit schedules makes life easier. Even when used daily, Uber is cheaper than owning a car and better for the environment.

It has been calculated that for every Uber X driver, three cars are taken off the road, thereby reducing traffic, pollution, and even incidents of drinking and driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving recently issued a report lauding Uber for reducing the number of DUIs and giving people a backup plan.

Not only does Uber empower passengers by providing more transportation choices, it also creates job opportunities for drivers, who work for themselves and set their own hours.

I have been using Uber for about three years in Toronto, and would probably be considered a heavy user. Part of my job also includes traveling to promote my book and speak in different cities across North America. While I’m on the road, Uber is an incredibly convenient, safe and reliable tool. I no longer rely on renting a car, trying to navigate bus schedules, calling a friend for a ride, or using a traditional taxi service.

I now even dread travelling to cities that have banned Uber.  Earlier this year in Calgary, I had to spend nearly an hour in subzero temperatures waiting for a taxi and trying to deal with an unaccountable taxi dispatch operator. In Vancouver just last month, I had to postpone an interview because of delays in the public transit system.

Juxtapose this with the Uber experience, or that of the many other ride-sharing apps on the market such as Hailo, Lyft, Sidecar or Wingz. I open the ridesharing app on my phone, request a car to my exact location using GPS, and immediately get paired up with a driver. I can see the driver’s name, a picture of the vehicle, the license plate number, the car’s location on a map, the estimated time of arrival (typically under 5 minutes) and the driver’s star rating given by other users. I even get the driver’s phone number. The experience is transparent, efficient and social.

Technology is enabling a new sharing economy, brimming with innovation, growth and new opportunities. Meanwhile, the bureaucrats that run our municipalities and police departments are stifling innovation while promoting entrenched interests and scratching the backs of the taxi establishment.

There are two sides to this Uber battle.  On one side stand innovative companies trying to help Canadians navigate our cities in a way that is faster, safer and cheaper than ever.  On the other side, there is a government-enabled taxi monopoly that misleads Canadians and uses fear tactics to prevent change.

Why not let Canadians decide for themselves whether to use Uber or not?