Municipal Support of Taxi Status Quo — vs. Uber — Ignores Reality (Op-Ed Sent to Ottawa Sun)

The City and taxi-industry spokespeople have only raised the “safety” issue in the struggle with the growing popularity of Uber X. But they ignore the other side of taxi regulation: limiting the number of taxi plates that are issued. Only in the related domain of transit does the city limit competition.

This limit along with the permitted transferability of taxi plates has created a black market in which such plates are sold privately for several hundreds of thousands of dollars. This investment is realized by charging fares — approved by the City above vehicle and labour costs, something that doesn’t happen with Uber rates.

Further, this situation means that all plates will be used full-time, even though taxi demand varies over the day and week; there are no part-time cabs available at peak periods. Uber acknowledges this reality by having “surge pricing.”

Uber has introduced a number of other improvements that the taxi industry should also get serious about introducing. And some of the City’s controls are redundant in the newly emerging world of the Internet-mediated “sharing economy.”

It is time to do a deep review of not just the taxi industry but of the City’s role in providing seats for transportation in a seamless and safe (and secure and cost-effective) way. That includes hitchhiking, ride-sharing, transit, and car-sharing/car-rental.

I predict that there will soon be a smart-hitchhiking app available so that any car driver on any personal trip will be able to pick any person going his way at the same time and charge only for his car expenses; that is essentially ridesharing, which is totally legal and unregulated (except for the driver needing a license and the basic insurance). That will be a threat to the two City transportation monopolies: taxis and transit.

Let’s not lose focus on the real problem: excessive private car ownership and use. That is the cause of our endemic road congestion, global warming, and the fears associated with walking and cycling. It is why transit, while trying to compete with the private car’s obvious advantages, is dependent for 50% of its revenues on the public purse.

It’s sad to see the City running lockstep with its bedmates, the taxi industry.

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