Hello, Goodbye. An ode to Uber in Alberta?
Poor Uber. Well, considering that the company operates in over 60 countries and estimated to be $10 billion (USD) in the black and worth almost $70 billion (USD), that might be the wrong phrasing. Perhaps ‘poor Uber drivers and passengers’ would be more accurate.
Just when citizens of Edmonton and Calgary think they are catching up with the times, able to use the controversial but popular app for ride sharing to their heart’s content, bang. The double threat of tradition and government bureaucracy rears its head. Uber backs out. Everyone is disgruntled.
The Tale of Two Cities
Uber Calgary and Uber Edmonton have taken a few highly publicized hits over the last few months. Councillors in both cities started off trying to accommodate Uber’s presence and the inevitable disruption it introduces amongst cab companies and unions.
Edmonton drafted up a bylaw to handle the unique situation of a ride sharing service that ideally wants to exist in a regulatory vacuum. Kudos to them for introducing a bylaw that was widely accepted by Uber and Uber supporters, and grudgingly accepted by cab companies.
Calgary councillors decided to put their own spin on things, and took a direction that was not so popular with Uber or their drivers. Their more onerous regulations and fees were intended to make up the costs of regulations, to improve safety and to level the playing field. The result? An ongoing war in the comment sections of every news organization that reports on the situation. And no Uber Calgary.
Now the entire thing is on the verge of destruction because the government of Alberta hasn’t made Uber insurance available. Is a facepalm warranted here yet? Let’s explore 2 sides of the issue and find out.
Side A: Hands off our Uber!
Bylaws introduce a troublesome layer of bureaucracy that ends up costing drivers, government and Uber time and money. These regulations chip away at the entire premise of the share economy: I have more than I need (ie. a car that I’m not using), you need something for which you are willing to pay (ie. a ride). Why don’t we get together and solve our mutual problems?
The reason Uber is so popular is because they have made it so simple. The app is apparently user friendly. Users (drivers and riders) have the power to make or break a reputation with star ratings, rendering poor drivers and passengers obsolete. Competition means rates are flexible and the app works to make rates transparent.
Cab companies need to stop digging in their heels and learn to compete. Uber introduces competition where it is very much needed and everyone is better off. Supporters rally behind Uber for Calgary:
Brett Wilson, popular Alberta business person, backs Uber wholeheartedly. And in case you weren’t convinced that Uber is the Best Thing Ever…
Side B: Not safe, not regulated, not welcome.
Uber does have many detractors internationally, and not just cab companies.
Many cities are opposing Uber for a number of reasons, but primarily because Uber’s business model attempts to bypass some important regulations. Uber can exist because its drivers are considered independent contractors - individuals with spare time on their hands willing to pick up passengers for a fee. By calling them contractors, Uber is not responsible for paying benefits or guaranteeing a minimum wage, nor are they specifically responsible if things go awry during a trip.
This doesn’t sit well with cities that have put regulations in place to protect citizens with commercial insurance and licensing for cab companies, and to protect workers from exploitation. So municipal and provincial officials are scrambling to put in place rules that satisfy everyone (impossible) and could end up satisfying no one (typical).
Not shocking considering that we’re pitting a traditional way of doing business against an international tour de force that’s disrupting a regulated industry with a business model that is morally and legally murky.
Opposition mounts as Uber spreads: London Black Cabs speak out against Uber with some compelling arguments. Uber’s breaking rules that are actually there to protect drivers and passengers.
So what’s a city to do?
So far, Edmonton seems to have found a workable balance. Calgary has not managed so well. And the provincial government’s foot dragging on insurance seems to be about to upset the apple cart.
What do you think they should do? Are you looking forward to getting Uber where you live? Or do you see too many problems? Let us know in the comments!