It's not the municipal government's job to tell people what ride-sharing apps they should use.
Toronto isn’t a hub of innovation. The venture capital community is famous for its stinginess, and we’re regressive when it comes to any disruptive technology. Fintech companies, for example, are having a hard time breaking in to Toronto, while their peers thrive in London and New York. There’s a reason we need to look to America to give us an imagined idea of our entrepreneurial spirit. That’s why we invent phrases like “Silicon Valley North,” so we can feel like we’re moving the right direction.
The problem is uniquely Canadian: we move too slow. In the modern economy, workers like cab drivers, who ideally work an eight-hour shift five days per week and take home enough money to make a solid living, will soon disappear. Canadian cities are at a crossroads where they can accept companies like Uber, the most divisive organization in the sharing economy today, or they can try their damnedest to ignore what consumers in their cities want, like Mississauga did.
But even the City of Mississauga has failed in this regard when it reversed its ban on Uber this week. It’s a sign of changing times: Canadian cities must accept the new norm that Uber brings, or face the consequence of irate citizens.
Mississauga councillors’ move to order Uber to cease operations in the city was done for ostensibly sound reasons. “I doubt the City of Mississauga is gonna sit down with someone who’s not willing to follow the rules at all,” said Mississauga Councillor George Carlson, who voted to ban Uber in April.
Uber, however, has been involved in the regulatory frameworks that have been established by Toronto, Edmonton, and Ottawa. While the company has pushed for its best interests—that is, to exist without regulation in cities like Mississauga—it is still playing by the rules.
Councillor Carlson said that he feels Mississauga City Council has been bullied by Uber, and that Uber has “no respect that the government has any role in the taxi industry.” When the government does get involved, regulations become so strict and organizations become so large that, as soon as there’s a competitor on the block, monopolized industries—like the taxi industry—can only turn to the government for protection. There’s little incentive to improving their business. Why would Uber, or any competitive company, want to be involved in that?
While Councillor Carlson says he understands that the sharing economy is here to stay, he just wants to ensure proper regulations and protections are in place before companies like Uber can fly their flag in Mississauga. But outright banning the practice proved ineffective. Just because Uber was playing hardball doesn’t mean consumers in Mississauga should have been denied a service they enjoy, nor should the thousands of Uber drivers in the city be denied that income. Only after the ban was instituted did councillors come to their senses.
Meanwhile, the temporary ban hurt some of the most vulnerable in the city: the Mississauga residents who are dependent on extra income from Uber faced a maximum fine of $25,000 if they operated during the two-week period during which the service was deemed illegal.
We should respect people who will lose jobs because of Uber or others in the sharing economy, but we shouldn’t respect the traditional failing business models they work under. Even Councillor Carlson agrees that the taxi industry is over-regulated: “I’m sure the egg marketing board has more slack than the cab industry here,” he says.
The idea that Uber should be nicer to the governments of cities that want to make business more difficult for them is absurd and proof that Mississauga’s reversal of its ride-sharing ban is a step in the right direction. The more Canadian cities hop on board, the faster our country might develop its own innovative industries.