PETER ZAHAKOS, SPECIAL TO THE TORONTO SUN
Remember Napster? That revolutionary file sharing service that changed the way people listened, bought and stored music. It changed everything in a multibillion-dollar industry reserved for elites who thought they ran the show.
Its business model mirrored Robin Hood. Take something someone else created, make it available for less, and make a killing along the way. It was a sharing model driven by exploiting copyright laws. Metallica and other bands eventually shut them down. Napster simply took what it wanted until lawmakers said enough.
Sound familiar? Uber is the new Napster, exploiting loopholes in current laws to overtake the market. It’s described by some as a game changer. But Uber hasn’t reinvented the wheel. It is simply stealing the tires and putting them on shiny unlicensed, uninsured cars for hire.
At a recent committee hearing in Toronto, dozens of UberX drivers sang the praises of their multibillion-dollar foreign employer. But most had no clue they were breaking the law by admitting they didn’t have commercial insurance. Many admitted they aren’t even collecting HST.
You could literally see their expression change from pride to fear after realizing they may face a huge tax bill at year’s end. Or worse, may not be covered if anything were to happen to their car or passenger.
These Uber champions revealed a lot. Laws are being broken. And Toronto is doing nothing to stop it.
In an attempt to level the playing field, the city came up with a framework. But the solution ties the hands of the taxi industry and gives Uber a free ride, creating separate rules for ridesharing companies.
The taxi industry rejects the creation of a new category for rideshares. It would mean different rules, different insurance guidelines, licensing and no set pricing. How is that fair?
Uber must not receive special treatment while existing companies continue to play by the rules.
The cab industry isn’t perfect. When our drivers err, we are held to account. We work with police. We suffer the wrath of our errors under the watchful eye of the media.
What we don’t accept is a company operating in secrecy — not divulging how drivers are insured or what background checks reveal.
When dealing with mass transportation, the city has an obligation to ensure public safety. Just recently police reported a female passenger was sexually assaulted by someone alleged to be an UberX driver. While the courts will ultimately decide with that case, one wonders if regulations requiring the installation of cameras in Uber vehicles — something cabs are mandated to have — would deter assaults and other crimes.
Last month, an UberX driver was dropped from his insurance company and Uber after an accident left his car totalled and him with serious injuries. He has lost everything and is now launching legal action against Uber.
Uber is making a killing — a $40-billion foreign company that has been allowed to exploit rules. It doesn’t invest in our communities and its money is kept out of our country. Does that benefit the local economy?
We also shoulder a huge responsibility of making sure people are safe. That there is a system in place to move passengers that has checks and balances. That has a guarantee of protection if and when things go wrong.
Like Napster, Uber has shocked the world into a new reality. The sharing economy will continue to evolve. Today it’s the cab industry. Tomorrow TTC busses could find themselves Ubered. You paying attention, unions? City officials can’t put this paste back into the tube, but they can and must move quickly to create rules that allow us to compete fairly.
— Zahakos is CEO of Co-op Cabs