Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An open letter to Mayor Jim Watson, about all this Uber mess

Hi Jim,

I want to talk to you about Uber. I know it's on your mind, I've seen you mention numerous times that the city will be reviewing taxi bylaws in the immediate future, and I can only assume that recent controversy surrounding Uber's presence in Ottawa is a main cause for the review.

When you're reviewing the bylaws, consider this: one of the main arguments against Uber is that it's unregulated and therefore not necessarily safe. I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, taxi regulation isn't necessary in the first place.

We're all adults here. We make our decisions about so many adult things every single day, and a lot of these involve strangers that have not taken a background check.

  • I can order a pizza and have it delivered to my door by a complete stranger who knows where I live and what valuables I possess, but I can't go home in an Uber car.

  • I can get drunk at a bar and get a lift home with a complete stranger who's had a couple of drinks but is under the limit and is going my way, but I can't go home in an Uber car.

  • I can get my neighbour's cousin Gary to come fix my washing machine for $20, but I can't go home in an Uber car.

  • I can meet and fall in love with a man named Steve, only to find out that Steve is living a double life and has a family on the side and his name is actually Gord, but I can't go home in an Uber.

Uber drivers and taxi drivers all have the same motivation: to make a living.  Sure there are the odd story here and there about Uber drivers misbehaving, but you can find just as many stories about licensed taxi drivers misbehaving.

I did an informal poll amongst my female friends about any unpleasantness they've experienced in licensed, regulated Ottawa taxis equipped with cameras:

Sheri: Almost every single cab I've been in over the past 20 yrs has made me uncomfortable by hitting on me. I had a really scary experience with DJ's cabs yrs ago where I was at the Makenzie st bridge by the mission when my cab driver got out and beat the shit out of a homeless kid trying to wash his windows.
Renee: There's one particular driver who always calls me, "Sweets": "Yes Sweets."; "Okay Sweets"; "Are you going to see your boyfriend Sweets?". It totally makes me feel uncomfortable. 
Julie: I had a driver hitting on me once as I was on my way to a party. Made me feel uncomfortable because I couldn't exactly walk away... 
Alex: At the end of the night I took a taxi home by myself. When the taxi arrived, the man driving took many opportunities to dis-empower me by consistently calling me Girl. He kept saying things like: “Hey Girl, it’s okay, trust me Girl, I’ll take care of you Girl”. At one point he called me sweetheart while he was asking some pretty invasive questions. I felt so dis-empowered and vulnerable that I was kinda afraid to tell him to stop calling me Girl and I was afraid of not answering his questions. 
Ashlee: The cabbie turned his whole body around when I got in and gave me the el creepo once over, spending a good amount of time on my tits while I tried to tell him where I was going. Then he told me how nice I smelled. He kept his hand on the back of the passenger seat in front of me the whole time, occasionally coming close to my knee as I tried desperately to keep distance between us.  When we finally stopped he told me the total $$ and slid his hand down the seat further while I looked through my wallet, staring at me the whole time. I put a ten in his hand trying to avoid touching his skin but he folded his fingers upward to make contact with my hand. Then said " you're paying me with money?" and gave me the most uncomfortable wink. 
Allison: He got out to walk me to my door uninvited, after asking too many personal questions about boyfriends and who I was with that night and scorned for talking about other men or that I had a date. "Oh, a beautiful girl like you, out there with all those men all the time tsk tsk tsk"

For the most part, these are cases of soft harassment, where the act isn't exactly egregious enough to report. Most people aren't going to call Blue Line and say "You know, my driver was being kind of inappropriate. No, he didn't touch me or threaten me but I felt kinda gross when I got out of the car."

On the other hand, Uber lets riders directly rate their driver (and vice versa) meaning that bad drivers and bad riders get their access to the app revoked if they misbehave. On top of that, Uber is VERY concerned with protecting their reputation. They know that the world is watching them closely and won't risk their reputation by not terminating any potential creeps at the first sign of trouble.

Every Uber user I've spoken to about Uber has nothing by nice things to say about it. They all prefer Uber over taxis. Cleaner, faster, cheaper, safer, more pleasant in general. Not to mention the added benefits of:

-no cash transactions;

-knowing exactly who your driver is because the entire trip is logged (as opposed to the all-too-real scenario where someone is tipsy, hails a cab, the cabbie harasses them and then when the whole thing is done, they don't remember the driver number or even which company it was, and the company has no official record of the ride because the cab was hailed);

-the assurance that the driver is using the fastest possible route to get you there (both driver and rider have access to Google maps to map out the trip);

-no tipping required;

-no refusal of short or inconvenient rides;

-no excessive service charge just to use a credit or debit card instead of cash; and

-no spending the entire trip listening to the driver yell into a Bluetooth headset at one of their friends (I've heard this complaint a lot).

So when the time comes to review the bylaws, it's really important that you ask the people of Ottawa whether they prefer Uber over taxis, and take their concerns very seriously. Give them the choice, as adults, to ride in a regulated taxi if they wish, or an unregulated but in my opinion equally safe Uber car. You don't need to hold our hands on our way home from the bar. We've got this.


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  2. Since you've started talking about Uber the past few months I've changed my mind about Uber. Good blog Greg, nothing I love better than arguing with you but in this case I'm with you.