A raucous city-wide protest. Footage of a cabbie pounding on a white Honda Civic before getting dragged down the street. A police officer struck by a taxi, sustaining minor injuries. Wait. This is in Canada?
It's true, eh? Canadian cabbies are riled up aboot ride-sharing service Uber and its disrupting effect on their livelihood. They've taken to the streets of downtown Toronto in a rolling protest this week to voice their concerns, and tempers are flaring. It's getting more dangerous out there than a moose in rutting season, or a grizzly bear with cubs, or a Canadian goose on a golf course.
On the surface, things look like any other demonstration where traditional jobs are threatened. People are scared, and angry, and unsure what to do. They march. They crowd the streets. However, as with all things Uber, there's more going on beneath the surface.
In Toronto, city-issued taxi licences – known as plates – are held not in the hands of drivers, but often by third parties who charge for their use. Private investors hoard the limited number of licences and force working cabbies to pay for the use of a cab at extortionate rates. It's basically a monopoly, and a lucrative one: in 2012, one of the plates changed hands to the tune of CDN$360,000. Later, the city attempted to address the problem by issuing “Ambassador” plates, licenses for use only by owner-operators, but it wasn't a perfect solution.
Uber isn't a perfect solution either, but it's effectively smashing Toronto's taxicab monopoly. It's not just the cabbies who are angry, there's some big money out there under threat. Corruption, graft, ugly politics. Yes, even in Canada.