Videos of unionized and municipally-licensed taxi drivers harassing and intimidating Uber drivers and their customers in large Canadian cities are surfacing online.
In one video, apparently recorded in Ottawa, a taxi driver approaches an Uber driver meeting clients and assisting them with their luggage. The taxi driver attempts to intimidate the Uber customers – two women who don’t appear to be fluent in English – by aggressively demanding that they not get in the Uber driver’s vehicle.
The taxi driver says to them, “Uber is illegal in Ottawa. You have to come. You will be in trouble I promise you.”
In another video from Ottawa, a taxi driver shouts at an Uber driver, “If I see you again you’re dead meat!” He also shouts at “shut the f*** up!” to the Uber driver’s customer.
In a video from Toronto, two taxi drivers attempt to extort an Uber driver, boxing him in and saying they’ll leave him alone if he surrenders his GPS to them.
Taxis in Canada are typically licensed at the municipal level. In order to lawfully sell transportation services with one’s automobile, one must may for the permission to do so via licensing. This fee alone can cost thousands of dollars per month.
Before Uber’s arrival in Toronto in 2012, the cost of a taxi license reached a high of $360,000. As of mid-2014, it had dropped to below $100,000. Given the high price, licenses are often leased at a monthly rate. Over decades, there has been significant concentration of ownership of taxi licenses in the hands of a small group of taxi companies. Other costs that drive up the price for end consumers of taxi services in Canada include licensing fees paid by dispatchers, mandatory camera systems within the automobiles, safety inspections, and commercial insurance.
Municipalities have been forced to address competing political and economic interests following Uber’s arrival to Canada and its damage to the status quo.
Taxi driver unions and their allies claim that Uber drivers enjoy an unfair advantage in that they aren’t paying the same costs as legacy taxi service drivers. They claim Uber services can therefore undercut the legacy taxi services on price. They also claim that “public safety” is at risk by virtue of Uber drivers not adhering to regulations ostensibly imposed in the interests of public safety.
Uber and its supporters claim that the current quasi-monopolies of taxi services across Canada lead to poorer quality and more expensive costs for service than would otherwise be the case. They also claim that Uber isn’t a conventional taxi service and therefore not subject to the regulations imposed on legacy taxi services.
Left-wing municipal governments and taxi companies across Canada are scrambling to crack down on Uber in order to exact their pound of flesh. In Ottawa, the city council is adhering to the demands of defenders of the status quo, promising a more aggressive pursuit of Uber drivers with local law enforcement by handing out more tickets and fines.
The city has gone so far as to run undercover stings to charge Uber drivers for operating “illegally.” In Vancouver, four taxi companies filed a lawsuit demanding a court injunction against Uber’s operations in the city. As a result, Uber has not yet begun operations in the city. Edmonton has proposed new regulations for Uber that the company says will make work unprofitable for many of its drivers. The city’s taxi companies have also filed a lawsuit against Uber and its drivers. In Calgary, taxi companies joined an online movement to keep Uber out of the city.