Nominated for: muscling its way into the market at the expense of cab drivers.
Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Torontonians either love or loathe Uber.
The service came to Toronto in 2014. A ride can be ordered to your location at the tap of an app and payment is automatically handled. Except when there’s surge pricing, rides are generally cheaper than metred cabs. Cars are clean, and drivers are generally friendly. Of course, this is because Uber drivers are rated by their passengers after each ride; the company is quick to drop drivers who don’t get five-star ratings.
Taxi drivers have not exactly been heroes either. There are many instances of taxi drivers illegally refusing short fares, cabbies drive aggressively and dangerously, and they turn bike lanes into illegal taxi ranks. And payment isn’t always easy. Taxis’ credit/debit machines—ever vital in a near-cashless age—never seem to work. But taxi driving is a difficult, dangerous, and thankless job, exploited by a system that rewards taxi plate owners, rather than drivers themselves. So-called allies on city council, like Giorgio Mammoliti and Jim Karygiannis, aren’t supporting beleaguered drivers, but plate owners.
Despite the service’s popularity, and the unpopularity of Toronto’s taxis, Uber is a worthy villain. Its business model is simple: enter a market illegally, lobby the municipal government to change the bylaws to suit its purpose, all the while exploiting their own drivers. Uber likes to pretend that it’s part of the “sharing economy” but it’s only out for itself.
Taxi drivers are licensed by the city, and are required to attend classes on such matters as human rights and instruction on how to serve passengers with disabilities. To drive for Uber, you need only take a short online course.
Thanks to effective lobbying, the City of Toronto changed its taxi regulations this year in order to legalize Uber’s operation. Two prominent Uber lobbyists—John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis— were also prominent persons behind John Tory’s 2014 win. Kouvalis, who’s currently managing Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch’s campaign, will run Tory’s re-election bid in 2018.
A few weeks ago, Uber announced that its Uber Eats drivers and cyclists would see pay cuts of 30 to 50 per cent per delivery. This was at the same time that another food-delivery company, Favor, pulled out of the Toronto market.
And in San Francisco, where Uber illegally rolled out a fleet of self-driving Volvos, there have been many reports of these autonomous vehicles running red lights and being unable to co-exist with cyclists. Uber’s long-term goal is to be the first to roll out autonomous cars for urban transportation, once again flouting the law. At least then, there won’t be any more drivers to exploit.