An Uber PR Problem For Toronto Taxis

toronto-taxi-uber-protest.jpgI don't have a big dog in the fight between the rideshare service Uber and Toronto's taxicab companies. I sympathize with some of the concerns raised by taxicab owners over Uber's unfair advantages (no requirement to purchase insurance, no regulation, et cetera), but I cannot help but shake my head over how incredibly self defeating the cab companies have been in recent days.

To protest Uber and to call for Toronto city council to ban the service, angry taxi cab drivers flooded the streets around Toronto's city hall during the afternoon rush hour. They blocked traffic, including TTC buses and streetcars. Some cabbies were seen berating other drivers (who were working for Uber), including one altercation where a cabbie ended up getting dragged for twenty meters. There's even a video of two taxi cabs appearing to impede the progress of an ambulance on University Avenue.

I get that Toronto's taxi drivers see Uber as a threat to their livelihood, but all these protests serve to do is communicate to Toronto voters that cabbies are angry, and nothing more. It fails to communicate to Toronto voters why they should themselves be angry at Uber. In that vacuum, Toronto voters are almost certain to come to their own conclusions, and assume that Toronto's taxi drivers have had a monopoly of operations for years and are reacting like spoiled brats at having it threatened.

This is not my sentiment, personally, but it's easy to see how many Torontonians could come to think this way, and it is why downloads of the Uber app have skyrocketed after similar protests by taxi cab drivers in other cities.

Toronto voters are not going to react positively to what they perceive as people shouting "I! Me! Mine!" because, like all humans, they're kind of selfish themselves. Taxicab protests that inconvenience commuters at the height of a stressful rush hour aren't going to curry favour. Instead, taxi companies need to use their protests to communicate why it's in the average Toronto commuter's interest that Uber be regulated, just like the other taxi companies.

There are reasonable arguments, here. Uber's "unfair advantages" of lower insurance requirements and regulations mean that if something goes wrong in an Uber vehicle, consumers have less protection than they do with taxi companies. There are plenty of Uber horror stories to go round.

But taxi cab companies also need to make sure their own house is in order. Over and above Uber's "unfair advantages" are the entirely fair ones -- its easy-to-use smartphone application that calls a cab for you, pays the fare electronically, and makes sure you get where you're going with the maximum of convenience. Cab companies have to match that, at a minimum.

It's telling that Uber's reaction to these taxicab protests has been stone silence. Why would they speak up? Their PR department has probably booked a day off to celebrate with drinks, because the taxi protesters have done their work for them. Every taxi horror story, every incident where a taxi cab driver suddenly refuses to take credit card payments, is a victory for Uber's PR department, and if taxi cab companies want to make headway against the upstart, they need to stop handing the new company the bat with which to beat them with.

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