I wish you were an Uber

 

It’s 6 p.m. and the city has that yellowish shade of autumn. The hot air lingers above Front Street while I give 5 stars to my passengers. Two Russian, or maybe Ukrainian, students excited about taking the train to Niagara Falls for the weekend. There is the glow of youth, hope, and limitless choices filling the surrounding air. Is love.

Behind my car is a taxi. A man opens the door of the taxi and, before getting in, sees the Uber sticker on my rear window. His face and body language is so explicit. The head leans to the left with eyes following the sign; the shoulders push and switch the rest of his body to the right as he would want to get to my car. The face softens as acceptance take over and slumps his shoulders squeezing into the taxi.

I feel sorry for the taxi driver. While his passenger had a choice, he doesn’t. He is bound by the old rules of the city and his Union. And they don’t do shit to prepare him for the change brought by Uber and others. Beyond the obvious decrease in taxi services quality, the taxi industry had all the tools and all the time in the world to stop Uber and they didn’t.
It all starts with the Unions and Taxi associations that get fat together with the government on the back of the taxi driver. I’ll explain in bit, but first let me tell you what the real purpose of a Workers Union for a private company is.

In 1998 I was a young business lawyer in Romania. (The name of the job was legal advisor because it was inspired by company’s organizational structure imported from Mother Russia). The company I worked for had a lot of commercial real estate in a city. It was full throttle privatization process everywhere. It meant that anyone with political influence and money was trying to buy as much real estate or entire companies as possible. And my company was the golden goose of the city. Everybody wanted a piece.

I was smart and inexperienced. I also got dropped in the middle of a war. I’ll never forget what the lady who was the president of the Workers Union of the company told me. It was my first lesson in capitalism and the essence of change that will move all this civilization of ours further. Yes. In a country just unshackled from the chains of communism, from a head of a Workers Union, who’s purpose was to protect the members and treated them as family, I learned this lesson:

“Kid, the purpose of the Workers Union is not just to protect its members, but to transform them into shareholders.”

That was it. Right then and there! A noble purpose I worked for in the next four years without rest.

Going back to the Toronto taxi driver, he/she is protected and pays heavy dues to people that don’t have his/hers best interest at heart. I’m pretty sure that in the last twenty years or more all the Unions and Association amounted huge quantities of capital, cash or investments. Huge. They could have prevented the rise of Uber with the minimum effort.

Uber is a SaaS. It is software as a service and a straight forward business model that can be duplicated in the initial phase as are all the companies entering the platform economy. With their vast resources, the taxi unions should have developed their own versions of software, rapidly change their profit sharing structure, and force the governments to vote by-laws that will protect the taxi drivers.

You don’t stop Uber by forbidding its business. You stop it by offering a better service. The taxi industry has three things that are an advantage and a disadvantage in the same time. The taxi driver could have thrived, but they didn’t because their unions don’t protect them and don’t behave as they should in a modern society.

  1. Driver’s professional experience.
    I, as an Uber driver, will never be able to duplicate the working experience that comes with years of being a taxi driver. In the same time, while a taxi driver is lax with the quality of service because there was no competition, I’ll make everything possible to make my customer happy and comfortable because Uber says so.
  2. Money.
    The unions have amassed a lot of money. That capital is spent in a way where the lack of transparency for union’s expense is deemed acceptable by the society. The same money could be used for fast development of software that will give the taxi driver a competitive edge.
  3. Government interest.
    When you are the taxi union, a broker that contributes with trucks full of money in taxes, you don’t beg the government to stop Uber. You create a competitive solution software and business model and tell the authorities:
    “Look, we have a good alternative for Uber. We can convince the customers to stay loyal to us and contribute to the betterment of this city. If you allow Uber to do business here without asking them to pay taxes and get their drivers through training courses plus other things that are mandatory for us, then we will become them as well and you will lose this much money. Here are the numbers. Take it or leave it.”

That’s all folks. It’s not rocket science.  If there is a way to keep the money your citizens spend and taxes in the city or in the country, you, as a government, should do it because protectionism is implied by any political platform.

With Uber and the platform economy comes a change that will affect not only the economy, but the entire society and also the existence of politically set national borders.

Short disclaimer: The Journal of an Uber Driver is a work of fiction.
Long disclaimer: The literary exercise to define a nowadays character for a novel led me to create these 25 blog posts. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Any opinion expressed about Uber should not be interpreted as having a negative connotation. I admire the company as an incumbent of the platform economy and I am a registered Uber driver for research purposes.