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If you know anything about clichés, you know that if you want something fast, cheap and good, you only get to choose two of the three.
And so it is with ride-hailing.
Uber and Lyft are fast. You book a ride on your phone, know the price before you commit and hop right out at your destination with the charge already applied to your Visa.
Uber and Lyft are cheap. They usually cost less than traditional taxis and tips are rare.
Good? Like I said, you only get two of the three.
Uber and Lyft are pitched, as are many gig-economy jobs, as empowerment — a way for private car owners to use their vehicles to make extra cash during their off-hours.
But there are countless welldocumented stories of Lyft and Uber drivers who work for less than minimum wage, and who put in long hours for the privilege.
I took a Lyft in Sacramento last fall. My driver, Ginger, arrived at 4:23 a.m. to get me to the airport for an early flight. She was kind and chatty. She was also in her pyjamas with a blanket covering her lower half. Working
all day, driving all night, napping between rides.
This situation speaks to the cost of living in big cities. But we can’t pretend ride-hailing drivers are all making scads of cash in their convenient, luxurious off-time. We can’t pretend that introducing ride-hailing to Halifax, which council cleared a barrier for this week in directing staff to craft a bylaw to govern the industry, won’t leave traditional taxi drivers in the lurch and likely boost traffic congestion in the city. Let’s also not pretend that we’re safer in an Uber or Lyft than a cab.
Halifax has seen a number of high-profile court cases in recent years that intersect at the cross streets of vulnerable women, alcohol impairment and taxi drivers. I would argue this isn’t particularly about who drives taxis, but rather the inborn risk of getting into cars with strangers, and the seeming inability of the municipality to adequately regulate the safety of vulnerable users. That won’t be better with ride-hailing.
Both Uber and Lyft restrict how long drivers can work. Twelve hours of driving demands a six-hour break to prevent fatigue. This is a nice idea, especially since Halifax cab drivers have zero limits on consecutive hours behind the wheel. But anyone who’s used ride-hailing services knows cars often have both Uber and Lyft stickers on the windows. Drivers finish a shift for one company and carry on with another.
The most bandied-about goodness connected with the ride-hailing industry is the idea that any worthwhile city — any big and proper city — must have Uber or Lyft. It seems ride-hailing, now that Halifax has Ikea, has somehow become synonymous, God help us, with civilization.
But if we so desperately want this fast, cheap service in Halifax, we ought to work hard to get to good. And the only means to do that is through reasonable regulation — the kind staff is working on now with the new bylaw and the kind the province will decide on later, like whether Uber and Lyft drivers will be required to have at least the Class 4 commercial licence that Halifax taxi drivers, and Uber and Lyft drivers in other cities, must possess.
If that rule, or any other, is a barrier too great for Uber or Lyft, it doesn’t mean that we’re not good enough for them.
It means they aren’t good enough for us.