The Lib­er­als should be hail­ing Uber

Unlov­able firm speaks to party’s core man­date

National Post (National Edition) - - CANADA - JOHN IVISON Na­tional Post

Com­ment

Uber may be the one of the world’s most unlov­able com­pa­nies. Pro­files have talked of its “a ...... cul­ture,” where ag­gres­sion and back­stab­bing is en­cour­aged.

There is an odi­ous whiff of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place, cav­a­lier dis­re­gard for cus­tomer pri­vacy and bul­ly­ing to­wards crit­ics. Driv­ers are con­sid­ered “part­ners” or “con­trac­tors,” never “em­ploy­ees,” with the en­ti­tle­ments like paid va­ca­tion time the term im­plies.

And then there’s the chaos gen­er­ated by the in­tro­duc­tion of a dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy to an in­dus­try that hasn’t evolved since the days of Travis Bickle’s Taxi Driver.

No won­der the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment felt it could get away with whack­ing the rideshar­ing com­pany with a new tax in last week’s bud­get.

It pro­vided the gov­ern­ment with a new source of in­come — al­beit just $20 mil­lion over five years — and al­lowed the Lib­er­als to bash a US$70-bil­lion com­pany for which there is lit­tle pub­lic sym­pa­thy.

But it is a short-sighted move that goes against much of what the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment pro­fesses to ven­er­ate — in­no­va­tion, the mid­dle class, the fight against con­ges­tion and cli­mate change.

In­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors do not pay sales tax un­til they earn more than $30,000 — ex­cept for taxis (pre­sum­ably on the sus­pi­cion that driv­ers don’t de­clare much of their cash in­come).

Un­der the new rules in the bud­get, ride-shar­ing op­er­a­tors will be clas­si­fied as a taxi busi­ness from July 1.

This is wrong-headed from any num­ber of an­gles.

For one thing, many of 38,000 Cana­di­ans who have driven four or more Uber trips in the last month are part of, or as­pire to join, the mid­dle class this bud­get was aimed at help­ing.

Three quar­ters of those “part­ners” work less than 20 hours a week, view­ing Uber as a short-term so­lu­tion to earn some ex­tra cash. Very few will earn more than $30,000 a year.

In­ter­est­ingly, Uber’s driver pro­file is very dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tional taxi in­dus­try. Around one in five are women, re­as­sured by an app through which the iden­ti­ties of both the driver and pas­sen­ger are known.

The ex­pe­ri­ence from Que­bec, where provin­cial sales tax al­ready ap­plies, is fewer oc­ca­sional driv­ers are pre­pared to work once the gov­ern­ment has jacked up the cost and the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den by de­mand­ing quar­terly HST re­ports be filed. mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments like the City of Ot­tawa rec­og­nize there are dif­fer­ences that re­quire sep­a­rate reg­u­la­tions.

Uber is ex­per­i­ment­ing with other ap­pli­ca­tions, such as UberEATS, a food or­der­ing ser­vice, and UberPOOL, a ride-pool­ing op­tion.

In the town of In­n­is­fil, Ont., Uber has signed a part­ner­ship with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to ef­fec­tively cre­ate a pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem, guar­an­tee­ing cheaper rates than a bus sys­tem.

This is a com­pany that has far grander am­bi­tions than killing the taxi in­dus­try. Rather, it is in­tent on killing the car in­dus­try — at least, the idea that ev­ery­one needs to own their own au­to­mo­bile.

Travis Kalan­ick, Uber’s co­founder, has spo­ken about his de­sire to even­tu­ally move to self-driv­ing cars for Uber ve­hi­cles.

Chil­dren born in 2017 might never need to learn to drive. As a dis­cus­sion pa­per au­thored by the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s Adam Stocker and Sura Sha­heen pointed out re­cently, au­to­mated ve­hi­cles and shared mo­bil­ity ap­pli­ca­tions will have be­come ac­cepted tech­nol­ogy by 2030 and may come to dom­i­nate ground trans­porta­tion by 2050, rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the car in­dus­try in the same way that mo­bile phones have trans­formed the tele­com in­dus­try. This will take mil­lions and mil­lions of cars off the road.

In­stead of pe­nal­iz­ing Uber driv­ers and cus­tomers, a more sen­si­ble way of lev­el­ling the play­ing field with the taxi in­dus­try would have been to re­move the ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stance un­der which all driv­ers are obliged to pay sales tax if they earn less than $30,000.

If the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is as keen to in­no­vate as it claims to be, it should re­verse the di­rec­tion of pub­lic pol­icy and en­cour­age pri­vate trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies like Uber and its com­peti­tor, Lyft.

Uber has some ma­tur­ing to do when it comes to the way it treats its em­ploy­ees, its cus­tomers and its com­peti­tors. But its dy­namic pric­ing, ride-shar­ing tech­nol­ogy is here to stay and it will change global trans­porta­tion sys­tems for the bet­ter. Ot­tawa should be on­side.

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