Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Uber is good for Ottawa

Dear Mayor Watson and Councillor Deans,

It has come to my attention that the City of Ottawa intends to increase punitive measures against Uber instead of reforming ride-share regulations. As a voting resident of Ottawa, I urge you to consider an alternate view. I see Uber as a revolution in transportation services, and although regulation is necessary it need not force ride-sharing into the taxi model.

While it is obviously required for the city and province to enforce their laws, the effort with which they are enforced is flexible. For example, driver's routinely exceed 100 km/h on the highway, but the police force doesn't make a point of ticketing every offender, as this is obviously against the will of the people. Furthermore, it is technically in violation of By-law No. 2003 - 498 to shovel road-plow snow that has filled in the front of your driveway onto the snowbank in the road, adjacent to your driveway, but everyone does this and no one is fined.

I have heard the argument in the news that Uber is less safe then traditional taxi. I firmly reject this claim. In my experience, Uber drivers have been reasonable and safe drivers, if anything, less reckless then some taxi rides I've had. Further, the Uber network publishes a star rating by which I can choose to reject drivers, and I am provided with a record of who has driven me where. This means that if an Uber driver behaves badly, I can give them a negative star rating, or report them to officials for major offences. I do not have this ability with the regular taxi service.

No one gets a personal copy of the taxi driver's ID prior to entering the cab. Posting an ID in the cab is much less effective then sending it to my phone prior to me entering the cab. I personally know a woman who was mildly assaulted by a regular taxi driver. She jumped out of the cab and ran away and didn't report the incident. If it were an Uber driver, I believe she would have at least issued a zero star rating, and perhaps would have reported the incident due to having a copy of the driver's ID in her phone.

Ride-sharing isn't new. People have been "paying gas money" in cash for shared rides for a long time. That's always been against by-law, and the city has taken no action against it. The only difference with Uber is that it's happening on a massive scale and the taxi lobby is upset.

It should be legal for anyone with a valid driver's licence and valid insurance (the Permission to Carry Paying Passengers endorsement) to transport any passengers any distance for any (non-regulated) fare. The whole point of the driver's licence is to ensure the individual can drive safely and responsibility. The only additional concern is insurance for which we already have a mechanism.

There should be no municipal license requirement for using a vehicle to carry paying passengers. That's not to say there shouldn't exist optional accreditation to indicate a higher level of training for drivers. But rational adults should have the option to choose to be driven by a regular licensed driver.

I debated this issue with my colleges and they indicated that part of the reason for regulating the taxi system is to ensure that all parts of town get service. I'd argue that's not an issue for Ottawa. We pay tax for a high quality public transit system for exactly this purpose.

The only claim I've heard against Uber that seems to have any validity is their lack of support for disabled people. It's my understanding that all business in Ontario are required to accommodate the disabled. I expect this translates to a minimum number of wheel-chair accessible vehicles in a given taxi company. Unlike licence and insurance the burden of this can't fall on an individual Uber driver, therefore it must fall on the Uber network.

Support for disabled clients in the Uber network could be ensured by the Uber network levying a small fee on each fare such that when a disabled client requests a ride, they pay regular fare and the Uber network pays the driver a bonus fare, thus incenting Uber drivers to equip vehicles to support the disabled.

It's issues like support for the disabled that should go into ride-share network regulation. There is plenty of time to consider these issues and develop regulation as Uber evolves, since it co-exists with the traditional taxi service. It's not necessary to shutdown the system and plan for its behaviour in a vacuum. You can measure the effect of the Uber network as it exists in Ottawa today and produce reasonable regulation for the future.

It seems clear to me that the increased punitive measures against Uber are motivated solely by the lobby to maintain the taxi monopoly of pay-transit. Just as many industries have undergone painful change, so too must the taxi monopoly. I believe that it is not the responsibility of the city nor the will of the people to prevent the evolution of this industry.

Please allow Uber to continue as it is until you have developed appropriate regulations such as those mentioned above.
Thank you.
- Michael Holtstrom

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