If you live in Waterloo Region and have used Uber, chances are you got an email yesterday asking you to fill out a survey the Region is conducting as part of its taxi by-law review process. That survey is here, if you’re interested in filling it out.
As part of the email, Uber included some of that helpful coaching that corporations and organizations like to trot out when they want you to lobby for something on their behalf. I understand why they do it, but it sometimes irritates me when it’s done by companies. If I use and enjoy your service, I know what it does and I’m pretty sure I can figure out how to answer a questionnaire in such a way as to hopefully allow myself to keep it. But anyway, let’s take a look at Uber’s points and see if they really do line up with my own thinking, because nobody tells me how to answer a survey.
We need you to tell the city why you love uberX. Here are a few things to consider before completing the survey:
• Regulating to allow “non traditional taxis” like Uber and ridesharing is a good step forward. A hybrid model of regulation includes Uber and ridesharing.
Duh. Uber and the potential for the arrival of other services like it is why we’re here in the first place. If not for Uber, there would be no need to tinker with the existing taxi monopoly. Not sure why they wasted the time and energy writing that one down.
• Vehicle supply caps are bad public policy. They mean decreased access to earning opportunities for drivers and longer ETAs for riders.
Makes sense. More vehicles on the road means greater availability when we need one, it creates jobs since people have to drive them, and competition is almost always a good thing.
• Regulated fares = dramatically higher fares. They also mean lower hourly driver earnings and worse reliability of service for riders.
I’m not in a position to understand how the lower earnings part works unless the idea is that higher rates means less customers, but I’m going to give this one a pass too because even though it makes no sense, describing taxi services around the world as sometimes unreliable is accurate. I base this on the number of times I’ve been left standing in the fucking cold in front of the only possible entrance to a building yet somehow the taxi I called managed to miss me even though the office says he waited for 10 minutes. Never mind that I’ve been out here for 20 and haven’t seen a single car stop here. The cabs can get away with that shit right now because if you need a ride in a pinch, who else are you going to call? If you open up the regulations and create competition based not only on allowing new players into the market but also cost, everyone who’s serious about wanting to make money at this is going to have to up their game.
• Requiring the use of cameras in ridesharing vehicles is unnecessary where trips are pre-booked through the Uber app and riders know who is driving them, the trip is GPS logged, with feedback and ratings after every trip.
That sort of accountability is one of the things I like about Uber. As a blind person it’s nice to have make, model, plate number and a mechanism for complaining or congratulating right at my fingertips. Works a hell of a lot better than the traditional “Did you write down the cab number you saw in the window, sir?” That said though, while I don’t think there should be mandatory cameras, it’s not the worst idea in the world for drivers to invest in a dash cam. I’ve talked to one Uber driver who did and he says it’s some of the best money he’s ever spent as a driver. It might also be good for Uber to create a program to subsidize at least part of the cost of cameras for drivers who want them and can prove with receipts that they’ve purchased one.
As for why I don’t believe they should be required, just think about it. How often has a security camera stopped a criminal from being a criminal? Exactly. If someone is determined to do wrong, that person will do wrong whether or not there’s a camera right in front of his face, and it’s not like every one of those people is caught, tried and punished to the full extent of the law even when evidence is strong as strong can be.
• Where ridesharing companies do not provide an accessible vehicle option like uberWAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), a fee imposed on the company in lieu of providing accessible service makes sense. Ridesharing vehicles are otherwise family vehicles that do not have hydraulic lifts and ramps.
This has been a bit of a contentious one around VC World HQ this morning. Carin, who can of course correct me if I’m wrong, seems to be taking the hard line position that if you’re going to operate, you should be providing accessible vehicles to help improve the somewhat pathetic state of affairs that the people who need accessible transportation are forced to put up with. While she’s definitely not wrong and providing an accessible service should be the ultimate goal of anyone who wants to set up shop here, I recognize that it’s not practical to ask every person who drives a car to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars they may never make back on the upgrades necessary to accomplish it. For that reason, I support the idea of charging a small fee on every ride (not a 1-time charge or some sort of capped amount) to those who don’t.
For me, the key is what the region does with that money. If they just chuck it into the general revenue pot, it’s useless. It allows companies to buy their way out of a problem and essentially wash their hands of it. What I would like to see is the Region establish an accessibility improvement fund that can be used to better existing transportation services. Longer hours for and more of the paratransit buses and taxis folks rely on so that it’s easier for them to get where they need and want to go with as little notice as possible should be the first order of business, followed perhaps by grants to city facilities and then private companies to retrofit any old buildings that may need it for greater accessibility if there’s anything left over.
Regardless of whether you agree with Uber as it seems I mostly do, you should take the Region’s survey if you care at all about the future of taxi service. Even if you only need a ride once or twice a year, you still have some skin in this game and your opinion matters.