Hicks on Biz: Edmonton City Hall, taxi companies need to get with the (Uber) times BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2015
e live in two solitudes.
Not the old ethnic/income divides, but the established “old” way of doing things, and the techno-savvy “new”.
On Sept. 4, the “old” tried to accommodate the “new”. Proposed revisions to the city’s Vehicle For Hire Bylaw were introduced as a compromise between the “old” highly-regulated taxi system and “new” self-regulating taxi systems, i.e. Uber. Public hearings on the draft bylaw are being held at city hall on Sept. 16 and 17.
On Sept. 9 and 10, the “new” celebrated its own identity and business culture at the Edmonton Economic Development-driven Ignite Festival.
The gap between “old” and “new” is quite magnificent. The “new” are 100% comfortable with the cascade of new computer-enabled technologies.
The “new” are comfortable with being contractors rather than employees.
The “new” expect to have multiple careers, including starting and selling their own companies, conducting business project-by-project and drawing on a network of independent associates.
The “old” are individuals for whom every new computer development is a challenge and a hassle. The “old” is about careers in big companies, as public servants, or in quasi-public sectors like health, education, government-funded agencies – the last bastions of life-long, single-employer careers.
In general, the “new” are younger. Said one of the few delegates over 40 at the Ignite Festival, “At Chamber of Commerce events, everybody is older than me. Here, everybody is younger.”
At the city and provincial levels, our great societal challenge is not to let the “old” entangle, dominate and frustrate the “new”.
The Uber debate is a visible battle ground, a highly visible illustration of the divide between “old” and “new”.
Uber is brilliant, disruptive “new” technology at its best. Anybody with a smart-phone, a late-model car, a driver’s licence and insurance can be a part-time Uber driver.
Punch in a request for Uber service request on your cell-phone, and you instantly see where Uber drivers are in the surrounding area, who the drivers are, how they have been rated by previous passengers.
Uber fares are based on supply and demand. Off-periods it’s cheap. Peak hours, it’s more. That’s “new” thinking, compared to the flat $3.60 to get into a conventional cab, then $1.48 per kilometre thereafter.
The Uber system is self-regulating – drivers are reviewed by passengers, passengers reviewed by drivers. It doesn’t need inspectors or bylaw officers checking for cleanliness or issuing maintenance certificates. Too many poor reviews, and Uber fires the driver.
Uber is now a $50 billion US “new” company operating in 250 cities in 50 countries. Other big “new” companies are Air bnb for accommodation, Amazon for consumer goods, iTunes for music distribution, Netflix for on-demand movies/ TV shows – all services that scare the “old” consumer because of his/her lack of technology comfort.
At the Ignite Festival, hundreds of “new” entrepreneurs embraced computer-enabled technology, finding out what’s new or what can be applied to their existing or “new” businesses to make them cleaner, greener, safer, faster and cheaper.
At city hall, the conventional “old” taxi industry – inefficient, slow, with dozens of city bureaucrats setting and enforcing taxi-cab rules – is doing everything it can stop Uber.
Equally fascinating is the deeper differences between “old” and “new” inside city hall.
At city hall, the “old” mindset is that government, for the safety, health and well-being of its citizens, must regulate certain services, like public transportation .
But the “new” mindset would suggest government regulation, in some sectors at least, is no longer needed. A series of poor reviews on an Uber driver will put the operator out of business in no time flat.
But when was the last time a bureaucrat said, “I’m not needed. Hooray! Do away with my job!”
Uber is up against the “old” cab system AND “old” thinking at city hall.
If city hall was run by “new” thinkers, it might embrace, rather than shun, the notion that consumer services such as taxis can be self-regulating.
One would think that progressive city councillors and Mayor Don Iveson would be of the “new” … but they get stuck on the fly-paper of the “old”.
Edmonton sees itself as a city of innovation and entrepreneurship. But as long as the “old” entangles and slows down the “new”, it’ll never truly happen.
If city hall told the “old” cabbies to update their act, to join Uber or form their own self-regulating service, that’d be “new”.
And if city hall then decided to no longer regulate cabs, period, that would be double-double “new”!