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Uber given some breathing room in Mississauga

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Despite what earlier this month look like an attempt by Mississauga City Council to snuff out Uber operations, new council plans look much more friendly with the potential for a pilot program.

I don't think anyone is going to contest a description of Uber as a rogue or maverick ride-sharing option that cities around the globe are trying to tie down and tackle, but I also don't think any stakeholders here need to fear an impending revolution. Or they might have dodged the whole ride-sharing shakeup all together.

Taxi operations within most cities are often bound to a pretty traditional definition of ride-sharing when it comes to licensing, by-laws and infrastructure. Looking at licensing by itself, for example, controversy abounds.

In Toronto, there was already a bitter fight taking place when it comes to taxi cab licensing and the arrival of Uber just adds another layer to this already rich cake.

What kind of license allows a driver to operate around or from our airport, the ability to swoop in and snatch fares from a driver who may or may not be licensed to operate in a certain city zone or the ability to transfer a taxi license from one person to the next, are all issues this industry is trying to sort out -- and if you think Toronto is plagued with big city issues, then the New York City taxi wars will blow you away.

The ground under which the current taxi industry operated in was already shaky to begin with, with claims that operating a taxi -- or at least holding a valid license -- is simply not profitable enough to be worth the investment to operate.

Uber has definitely shaken things up. In fact, what exactly Uber is, in itself, is a question that is still in the process of being answered.

For defining Uber is pretty complicated when you start to examine the cost and benefits to operating a ride-sharing vehicle in Toronto.

Uber in Toronto, as the corporation defines itself, is nothing more than a smartphone communications platform/app that allows a potential rider to book a seat in an Uber registered vehicle. Nothing more, and thats the problem.

Many would claim that Uber is running rogue as the phenomenon -- again, Uber is relatively new as it was founded only seven years ago in March, 2009 -- doesn't even have an agreed-upon definition of what actually it is. Can it be defined simply by what it offers as a service provider, or does each individual city where Uber is operating or wishes to start operating, have the right to define this service to the public.

You see, even writing about Uber is complicated since there are competing definitions, let alone trying to figure out who exactly has the right to even dictate -- on a meta-level -- the rules behind how to define and who has the right to define, what Uber is.

It's actually a lot easier to consider what Uber is by looking at what Uber does, as verbs are doing a better job at defining what Uber is than the traditional noun.

So…what is Uber?

Uber, as defined by Wikipedia (I'm trying to throw a big net here) is a corporation that, "develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars."

Sounds pretty much what I would consider a “taxi” to me.

Actually, if we can use a definition of itself as a business model, and for a second set aside what the corporation actually provides, the phenomenon of what Uber is, has been called "Uberification."

With all this confusion, you can see why a few of the eggs-for-that-omelet did crack.

And now Uber is being blamed for crashing the taxi industry. According to a Global News Business report, "in the space of two years, Toronto's taxi licenses plunged in price from a high of $360,000 in mid-2012 to below $100,000 in mid-2014."

Many cities around the globe have had to deal with Uber's rogue, or disruptive and illegal in a "depends on who you ask" kind of way, business model. Uber has always argued that it's a technology corporation, not a taxi corporation, so any legislation around the taxi industry would not apply to them. Critics argued that playing fast and loose with semantics meant that Uber was trying to dodge city by-laws and other measures that regulate the industry.

In Toronto, the value of a taxi license plate's value started to drop when Uber arrived on the scene, and it has never recovered. So for some, who bought into the industry with a plate as a retirement plan, cannot sell off or rent the plate and break even, let alone make a profit.

Simultaneously as Uber operates, municipalities are trying to shut the corporation down.

In February 2015, it was Toronto city councillors' turn to try and manage ride-sharing operations in the city. They decided to phase out licenses plates for taxis by 2024. Also, new enforcement measures meant that anyone buying a new plate would have to actually drive their car for at least 167 hours a month.

Anyone already established in the industry before the phase out, if they qualified for standard plates, could still rent out their plates to drivers but no new plates would be issued, which effectively undercut the value of taxi plates. The value of the plates never recovered to pre-Uber value.

On top of that, last year in Toronto, councillors attempted to shut Uber down claiming that since September 2014, the corporation has been recruiting unlicensed drivers with unlicensed vehicles to provide taxi services.

From the city's point of view, Uber was operating an illegal taxi service. Uber, as always, claimed it was only a technology company that connects riders and drivers and therefore was not subject ride-sharing related bylaws, etc.  

In an email statement, Uber said the company is disappointed that, "bureaucrats have deployed expensive legal tactics to attempt to halt progress, limit consumer choice and force a broken transportation model on the public."

On Wednesday May 25, 2016, Mississauga City Council decided that in fact they did not want to declare war on Uber and force them from the city. Instead, a new pilot project would be launched that would allow ride-sharing companies like Uber to continue to operate. City councillors have until June to decide on the rules for the pilot program.  

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