Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Hamilton-Uber Deal in Plain English

Check out this report from the January 19, 2017 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

The title of the article is "Hamilton councillors pave way to Uber legalization."

With all the talk these days about "fake news" I think we have a good example in this headline. There never was any question about whether Uber could start a third taxi company in Hamilton. As Ken Leendertse, the city's licensing director, said,

"We share the opinion of other municipalities that Uber would be operating as a taxicab service, as such, they are required to register with the municipality as a broker and are subject to the same provincial and municipal regulations — and penalties — that ensure consumer protection of residents and visitors, and ensure the health and safety of passengers and drivers."

So, contrary to the implication of the misleading Spectator headline, there was never any doubt about Uber's legality, so long as it complied with the same regulations as other taxi companies.

Uber wasn't demanding legalization. It was demanding exemption. Uber chose, instead, to pretend that it was not in the taxi business and, therefore, not subject to the laws applicable to taxis. That is like saying that regulations that apply to used car dealers do not apply to the sellers of "pre-owned" vehicles.

There has been a lot of back and forth over the question of whether Uber is operating a taxi business, or something fundamentally different, like a massage parlor. I am not going to waste any time on this question.

Uber is operating a taxi service. I have "interviewed" hundreds of ordinary people over this question. The responses are almost unanimous. "Of course, Uber is a taxi service." The only people dumb enough, or dishonest enough to disagree are the politicians and the media. The real question is, should the Uber taxi company be exempt from the laws that apply to other taxi companies?

I don't think so.

And if the Spectator had any decency or honesty, the headline should have stated,

"Uber Gets Deal from City of Hamilton. Wins Exemptions from Most Taxi Regulations."

But I have come to expect no less from the Hamilton Spectator over the years. It's nothing more than just another part of the FakeStream media that was recently repudiated by the election of Donald Trump. Utterly repudiated.

Far from levelling the playing field, this deal with Uber creates an almost vertically skewed un-level playing field.

Consider the annual $50,000 license fee Uber will pay the city for the equivalent of an unlimited number of taxi licenses and compare that to the approximate $270,000 the city extorts from all of the non-exempt taxi operators every year. Oh, and let's not forget the taxi driver license fees that the city plans to lower to $100 per year. 1,200 drivers equals $120,000.

Does that sound like a "level playing field" to you?

Very shortly after Ken Leendertse announced that Uber would be required to comply with the existing taxi bylaw he started to backtrack, as reported in the Spectator on Jan 23, 2015.

"In all honesty, if, in fact, Uber is going to come to our community and operate, effectively dealing with their business model, they'll require a political solution versus an enforcement solution," Ken Leendertse said Thursday.

When I read that report, I knew the fix was in. Uber had gotten to them.

The fix was later confirmed in a CBC report dated Feb 03, 2016.

At a city council meeting on Feb. 10, Coun. Sam Merulla will move that the city create a category to ensure "consumer and public safety" when it comes to Uber, and a "level playing field" with the taxi industry.

Sam Merulla's strange notion of what constitutes a "level playing field." I.E. a playing field heavily tilted in favor of Uber is typical of politicians who have mastered the art of dancing around issues. I knew it was a lie. As a general rule, take whatever a politician says and reverse the meaning.

The mayor was no less adept with fancy political footwork.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger not only supports Merulla's move but was about to introduce a similar idea himself. Increasingly, the city has accepted that Uber is here to stay.

"In many respects, it's like chasing your tail," he said of trying to stop Uber.

"Legitimizing them is going to be more open and transparent and safer for users out there."

I don't know much about city politics, but I do know a thing or two about the taxi business, and it is obvious to me that the mayor doesn't know and doesn't care to know what he is talking about.

Imagine if he spewed the same hogwash in response to complaints about hookers, or drug dealers, or panhandlers.

"In many respects, it's like chasing your tail."

"Legitimizing them is going to be more open and transparent and safer for users out there."

If the issue were about hookers, drug dealers, or panhandlers you KNOW that the mayor would have a very different response. And the reason comes down to simple arithmetic. A lot more voters would be pissed off.

With only 1,200 cab drivers and their families to piss off, it's a political price worth paying. The mayor knows his political calculus.

Piss off? That is too mild a term. The sudden entry of this third taxi company has negatively impacted the lives of everyone engaged in the non-exempt taxi sector. Some (i don't know how many) have quit. A few have jumped over to Uber, not realizing they were screwing themselves as well as their colleagues, and others are still hanging on, dealing with depression, wondering whether they shall lose their homes. One even mentioned to me thoughts of suicide.

When the government of Dublin, Ireland, pulled the same political stunt, pre-Uber, fifty Dublin cab drivers eventually ended up taking their own lives.

I don't know exactly how Uber got to the local politicians. I doubt it was anything as dramatic as grocery bags full of cash being passed under the table, or compromising recordings of politicians saying things like, "grab her pussy."

For one thing, the politicians have zero skin in the game. If they make a bad decision they suffer no personal consequences. From their point of view, it is easy to sell out their own constituents so long as those constituents remain small in number and voiceless. It's especially easy to sell out those constituents when the media goes out of its way to demonize cab drivers. Who cares if taxi license owners who invested their lives in their licenses lose everything they ever worked for so long as it can all be swept under the rug? Who cares if the city's taxi drivers lose half of their income so long as the media continues to paint them as a bunch of rude, unhygienic losers with no teeth. (Not to mention the fact that most of the drivers are immigrants.)

There was that fake survey the city posted on its website. The one with the questions that were clearly structured to provoke a positive result for exempting Uber from the taxi bylaw. "Would you like to have a choice between paying for sex or hiring a hooker?" Questions like that.

Then their was the fact that most other Candian cities that Uber decided to set up shop in caved in with barely a whimper. The politicians always like to say, "Well, other cities are doing it. Therefore we should copy them."

I've never been a fan of copy-cat policy making.

It reminds me of when I was a kid. All sorts of kids were wearing those kewl peddle-pusher pants, but my parents made me wear shorts. I would protest, "but Jimmy Craw Legs (not his real name) has a pair." My dad would reply, "Well, if Jimmy Craw Legs jumped in the lake, would you want to do that too?"

Plus there is the fact that I have never been much of a deferential thinker. I like to think for myself and take my chances about being right or wrong rather than simply accept any kind of bullshit that is being spewed just because other people seem to accept it.

When I hear a politician invoke the "other jurisdictions are doing it," justification, I want to puke at the utter cowardice, or sheer negligence, overuse of this mantra reveals.

Oh how I would love to see someone stand up against prevailing fashions and actually show some guts! (Wait, we did have a guy like that in the news lately. He is now the president of the United States.)

Back to the central point. Uber is just another taxi company that has found a way to conduct its business without following the same rules as less powerful taxi companies.

And that is, basically, what the City of Hamilton is doing in this case for the American taxi company who transfers all of its profits to Holland for favorable tax treatment.

What does Hamilton actually get out of this deal? Not much. A few foreign students and McMaster students save a few bucks on cab rides. A few millennials get to pretend they are kewl. And the politicians get to pretend they are visionaries.

Sidenote: I could not help but think of Donald Trump again. No one would argue that Mr. Trump is your average politician. I have so enjoyed this Trump phenomenon, if only to have, for the first time in my life, witnessed a politician with real courage actually get elected. That is priceless.

I was going to go into more detail with my comments on this obnoxious display of everything that stinks about politics, and those who practice it, but I think I have gone on long enough for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave your comments, insults, or threats.