Uber — Both good and bad news

On Tuesday the province gave Uber the green light to begin operating in BC.

If you see the world through the eyes of a consumer, this is great news. If you see the world through the eyes of a worker, this is definitely bad news.

Most of us, in Metro Vancouver at least, have had occasion to complain about the length of time we’ve had to wait for a taxi. The addition of Uber will definitely help resolve this. From a consumer point of view, the news gets even better. Uber is at the cutting edge of harnessing technology to improve the consumer experience. When is the last time you Googled customer reviews of the individual taxi driver dispatched to pick you up? Exactly — you never have, because you can’t. But Uber uses technology that literally puts the passenger in the driver’s seat.

This is all a plus for customers, but in a consumer-driven society the needs of workers are often left behind. In the case of the taxi industry, this is particularly so.

Let me tell you just a little bit about the working conditions of your taxi driver. No minimum wage. No statutory holidays or benefits. No benefits at all. No protection under the Employment Standards Act. No overtime pay, no matter how many hours worked in a shift. Ditto no matter how many hours worked in a week. No official coffee or lunch breaks. Your typical taxi driver works a 12-hour day 6 days a week and brings home very little money.

Our transportation choices affect our fellow workers — BC’s decision to allow Uber jeopardises thousands of taxi driver jobs, and Uber employment is not a sustainable alternative. Instead of a race to the bottom for people who drive us from Point A to Point B, the provincial government needs to listen to Vancouver Taxi Association’s pleas for improvements for the industry that will make taxis more convenient and accessible. [Photo by Alan Turkus (CC BY 2.0)]

If the above were not bad enough, many taxi drivers are forced to purchase their job. Let me explain. Taxi licences are bought and sold. The price of the licence increases as the unemployment rate increases and the number of people looking for work goes up.

Unemployed people desperate for a job look for ways to buy one so, if they can, they might put a mortgage against their home to secure the money required. The sad part is you then have unemployed people going further into debt to buy a taxi licence.

With Uber on the horizon, taxi drivers have been trying their best to work with government to create a solution that benefits consumers but also doesn’t make the situation even worse for taxi drivers. Their fear has been that if Uber is given the opportunity to flood the market, the worth of taxi licences will plummet. Drivers who have mortgaged their home will now be “under water”. What irony! Minimum wage workers now losing their biggest, and often their only asset — their home.

I get frustrated, as we all do, when I can’t get a taxi in a timely manner. However, the inconvenience I experience pales in comparison with the devastating harm about to be inflicted on literally thousands of taxi drivers province-wide by an insensitive and heartless provincial government that has totally ignored every recommendation made by the Vancouver Taxi Association.

The next time you take a taxi, take off your consumer “glasses” and try to see things through the eyes of your taxi driver.

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One Response to Uber — Both good and bad news

  1. Thanks for this perspective, Tim. One important thing to note, however, is that even if ride-sharing hadn’t been created, the next huge threat to the taxi industry (and many others) will be fully autonomous vehicles. We live in an era of unprecedented change and disruption, and rather than focusing on the employment of specific groups being at risk, I think we need to have a broad discussion on the inevitable changes to employment/labour that technology will bring about.

    We need to identify what sorts of jobs people will be able to take on well into the future, but we also need to develop ways to support people in being flexible/adaptable when it comes to their employment, and willing to retrain (if necessary). As much as we would all like good, well-paying, and meaningful work for as many people as possible, I think providing this is going to be difficult in the future and we need to start putting our heads together now to come up with proactive solutions.

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