George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it how to dance”. Given what happened at City Council, it seems that we have not only more than enough skeletons from our past but that we are creating new ones for the future. At the heart of the issue is this question – Do Technology Networking/Ride Sharing Companies have to play under the same rules as Taxi Cabs and existing brokerage companies?
At this point in time we have a highly regulated taxi cab industry competing against an illegally operating company called Uber (under our existing bylaws). There is no doubt that Uber’s existence and popularity is a strong testament to the failings of the Taxi Cab industry to meet customer service demands. This is also a clear indication that the Taxi Cab industry is in dire need of reform. Yet, should Uber be allowed to operate under unfettered and unregulated market conditions? For example, the province requires that any vehicle for hire operator must carry commercial insurance at a considerable expense. As it stands right now an Uber driver does not pass that test and if you get into an accident in an Uber vehicle you would not be covered by the drivers insurance policy; therefore putting the passenger at great risk. Also, as mandated by the province you need a special class of license to operate a vehicle for hire, many Uber driver’s do not have that license either.
Be it Uber, Lift, or any other technology networking company (or TNC for short) everyone will admit that there is no turning back the clock and these service, if not today, will someday become legitimate in the eyes of various municipalities. The question is under what conditions?
I have always maintained that the customer must come first in terms of passenger service and passenger/driver safety. TNC’s cannot skirt these two principals and it will be up to the superintendent of insurance from the province to make that call. Yet there is more to this issue. Why should a taxi cab be forced into a highly regulated metered fair regimen and the TNC charge whatever they want whenever they want?
I have always held the position that anything that City Hall does must ignore the noise surrounding this dance and focus on the only thing that matters – the customer. First, the customer (and driver) must be placed in a framework that is safe and has recourse for the inevitable accidents to come and these rules are clearly understood and paid for by whoever the driver is. Second, there must be fairness in fare structures, vehicle inspections, and other matters that places both models on a level playing field. If the taxi cab industry wants to design apps that utilize the same model as Uber they are free to do so but, Uber cannot operate in an unfettered market place as this will only lead to a race to the bottom; in terms of service quality and driver compensation. The last thing Edmonton needs is a transient vehicle for hire industry where people can do whatever they want to whomever they want, whenever they want.
The Taxi cab drivers tell me that they are not afraid of competition as long as it is a level playing field. Uber has resisted too many of the City’s overtures to date saying that they are just a TNC and the rules need not apply to them. There are no simple solutions.
All skeletons aside it is the customer who will decide. The market place needs to be leveled and Council will need a couple of dances to get its steps right. Can it be done? Yes. But, can we ignore TNCs and ride sharing? No. And so, we let the music play on….