An Open Letter to London City Council re: Uber

Dear Council,
Recently, 7 of you approved a proposed bylaw change that would require all vehicles-for-hire (VFH)to have security cameras installed in order to maintain their legal operation. For those unaware, this bylaw will require the 900+ Uber drivers in the city to purchase a security camera that costs upward of $1,000 and install it in their vehicle. London is the only city in the world to approve this regulation, and Uber has recently submitted a letter to the city claiming that instead of forcing drivers to go through with such a purchase, they will instead cease operations within the city.

Let’s just get it out of the way: this is a whole new level of stupidity. For reasons beyond my comprehension, you have once again succeeded in making London a joke among major Canadian cities.

What was the reason for this decision to require cameras? From the bylaw proposal: “All currently licensed taxis and limousines have purchased camera systems. For purposes of fairness, some form of transitioning to a uniform system would need to be negotiated with current licensed vehicle owners and brokers who have recently purchased and installed required cameras.”

Let’s think about that for a minute: for purposes of fairness. For purposes of fairness. I’m sorry, but when did the free market society that we live in become fair? Did Sony cry about Apple’s better music player and demand a new bylaw for purposes of fairness? Did Apple throw a temper tantrum about Google making a better maps app and demand a new bylaw for purposes of fairness? Did MySpace file a lawsuit against Facebook and demand a new bylaw for purposes of fairness?

Apparently our city council needs a history lesson, because last time I checked, if a company or industry model can’t compete or is using outdated technology, bylaws usually aren’t drawn up to make things “fair”; it’s sink or swim. Companies need to adjust their practices or technology offerings in order to maintain a healthy level of competition. If you can’t keep up, too bad.

Just because cabs are required to have cameras doesn’t mean Uber drivers should be simply because they provide a similar service. Operationally, the two modes of transportation are vastly different. Uber connects you to a driver with a profile whom you can track and rate their level of service. Cab companies have started offering apps, but the industry is still largely driven by ad-hoc hiring (hailing a cab) or phone bookings. Before I get into a cab, I have no idea who my driver is or what their level of service for past clients has been like. There is no comparison for “fairness”, because the level of anonymity is not at the same base level.

This brings me to my next point: the purpose of the actual camera. A lot of people think it’s to protect the passenger— this is false. I can see why you would think that; headlines of drivers sexually assaulting their riders tend to make popular headlines. However, the primary motivation for installing security cameras is to protect the drivers. A cab is a little ATM on 4 wheels for would-be thieves. No such dilemma exists for Uber drivers because payment is mediated through the app. The notion that passengers are at a higher risk without a camera-provisioned VFH is not supported by any credible evidence. The fact is, no reputable data set exists that tracks sexual assaults committed by VFH drivers (and where these assaults take place). Uber has also been much more proactive with regards to addressing passenger safety, and contains a more rigourous background check process than cab companies traditionally employ. This is a whole other can of worms, but in the case of robberies, the crime would have to take place inside the vehicle where all of the money is, so the camera is actually providing valid protection for the cab driver. That investment is actually providing a valuable service that reduces their risk of losing cash on hand.

I thought that this information was widely understood, but apparently I’m wrong. Thanks London City Council, the 7 of you who voted in favour of this idiotic bylaw have proceeded to screw over 900+ people who rely on Uber for primary or supplementary income (many of them former cab drivers who jumped ship to a superior business model), not to mention the thousands of daily riders that use Uber because — shocker — it’s a far superior service.

Our society’s history is built on progress. Sometimes industries need to go through growing pains in order to improve. For all the talk around the city about how important “innovation” is, this confusing decision is anything but innovative.

Here’s some advice: stop listening to the losers who are whining about how things aren’t fair. Society doesn’t move forward that way. The Dutch East India Company had to go through it thanks to pirates. The BBC and their monopoly on radio had to go through it thanks to renegade radio stations. The music industry had to go through it thanks to Napster. Now it’s the cab industry’s turn. Stop supporting the stumbling past and start embracing disruption.

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