Colour Commentary: Senators Uber video makes a big deal out of nothing

Driver and Ottawa Citizen look bad in this situation

Usually, the Ottawa Senators are the gift that keeps on giving. This year, every little thing they’ve done is laughable, from trading captain Erik Karlsson for eight not-so-good assets, to having owner Eugene Melnyck sit down with defenceman Mark Borowiecki for an awkward interview. The Senators went from being one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 to one of the worst teams a year later, and they gave the rest of the hockey world something to laugh at along the way.

However, the Senators’s latest incident is nothing to laugh at, and I actually feel bad for the team. On Nov. 5, the Ottawa Citizen released a security video from inside an Uber ride seven players took together in Arizona. During the ride, forwards Matt Duchene and Chris Tierney, along with defencemen Thomas Chabot and Chris Wideman, made fun of assistant coach Martin Raymond. Wideman and Duchene are the most active in the conversation, criticizing Raymond for his coaching style, or lack thereof. “We don’t change anything ever, so why do we even have a meeting,” Duchene asked. “I haven’t paid attention in three weeks.”

When the video was released, the players and the Senators got heat for it and became the laughing stock of the NHL again. But you know what, it’s not even that big of a deal. In fact, the Uber driver and the Citizen are in the wrong for posting the video and breaching the players’ privacy.

Is it really a surprise that they’re mocking their coach? Not at all. When Raymond’s penalty-killing unit is running at 70 per cent efficiency, fourth-worst in the league, did you expect players to be praising his work behind his back? It’s not like they attacked him personally or made death threats, they were making fun of how he coaches and how their penalty-killing is so bad.

It’s as if the media holds NHL players to a higher standard when they’re outside the rink. Yes, hockey players have to be role models and set a good example for their young fans, but is the Citizen seriously going to tarnish them just for saying some things in an Uber? They’re people too—the fact that they were in an Uber and not drinking and driving is enough to show they’re responsible. I’m sure the people at the Citizen have said some nasty things about their bosses too, but luckily for them, they haven’t been caught doing it.

This whole situation is just ridiculous, and all the Senators need to worry about is improving their penalty kill.


Technological advances for Uber aren’t enough

Drivers should be more interested in keeping passengers safe and comfortable

There’s a reason why Montrealers have been using more Ubers than taxis in recent years. The Uber app makes it easier for users and drivers to find each other, because their locations are shared through the app.

According to documents obtained by Le Journal de Montréal on March 23, the number of cab drivers filing for bankruptcy in Quebec has tripled since the arrival of Uber in 2014. I believe it’s due to taxis’ lack of accessibility. In the city, people can catch a cab driving down a street or hop into one in a designated waiting area. However, once you’re in a residential area, you have to call a cab company, because the odds of seeing a free cab passing by are unlikely. So, people turn to Ubers.

Waiting for an empty cab to drive down a busy street is something people want to avoid nowadays. Think about it—we have reached a point where we are used to finding the things we need in almost no time, thanks to our smartphones. I believe cab companies should hop on the technology train—or should I say Uber train—to stay accessible. The fact that people can split the fare of their ride is an added plus for Ubers. Although some taxi companies, such as Diamond Taxi, have location and prepaid services, I believe all taxi companies should advertise for it more.

All these technological advances in Ubers, like the location access, the direct payment and the option to split fares, make it an efficient application. However, Uber drivers can be and are often less experienced compared to taxi drivers. Both types of drivers go through a similar vetting process. Both are required to hold a Class C4 driver’s license, speak and read French and have no criminal record. However, Uber drivers only have eight online modules of training compared to the 150 hours of mandatory training Montreal taxi drivers have to go through. Taxi drivers’ training covers 53 hours of taxi transport regulations, 50 hours of geography and topography training and seven hours of training for transportation of a disabled person.

While I take Ubers due to their easy access, almost every Uber driver I ride with has harshly swerved on turns or ran red lights. Sometimes, they’ve made illegal turns. In other words, their “driving etiquette” isn’t perfect. I believe these drivers need a lot more training. On multiple occasions, I have had to change my destination to a closer one and get out of an Uber earlier because of reckless driving. This lack of professionalism has made me feel unsafe in Ubers.

To be fair, many Uber drivers have the “entertainment” aspect down in their cars. Some offer water bottles, phone chargers, and many have an AUX cord at their disposal for their passengers to blast their own music during the ride. In other cases, they are more interested in starting conversations and playing music than focusing on the road. While these additions are nice perks, I don’t believe they are a priority.

When an Uber ride begins, the GPS automatically creates a route, which often seems to take detours that make the ride longer than it should be. According to an Uber customer service agent, “If you have a specific route in mind, you can always request that your driver follow those directions.” Yet, when I ask the driver to follow my directions, I am either ignored or even told, “No, you don’t know how to get there.” Most of the times my destination is my own home, and these detours result in a more expensive ride.

Ultimately, neither taxis nor Ubers are perfect, but taxi companies should take advantage of the technology available in today’s world to make their service accessible to more people. As for Uber, their drivers need to have more extensive training to make sure their passengers are more comfortable during the ride.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Training hours go up, Uber Quebec goes down

After government proposes new standards, Uber threatens to leave the province

Uber driver Francis Galarneau said he thinks a mandatory 35 hours of training for drivers is too long and so does his boss, Uber Québec general manager Jean-Nicolas Guillemette. The extended training is part of the government of Quebec’s new demands for the ride-sharing behemoth.

The changes to the province’s deal with Uber were presented by Quebec’s Minister of Transport Laurent Lessard on Sept. 22. Following Lessard’s announcement, Guillemette said Uber would pack up its things and leave Quebec.

The provincial government’s renewed deal with the American company also included the addition of criminal background checks performed by police on drivers, according to Mathieu Gaudreault, a spokesperson for Lessard.

“We do not want Uber’s departure from Quebec,” Gaudreault told The Concordian. “We believe that these modifications are legitimate and realistic.” Gaudreault added that the number of training hours were non-negotiable.

Galarneau’s situation is similar to that of many other Uber drivers: he has a full-time job and drive part-time on the side. According to a 2015 study by Uber’s head of research, Jonathan Hall, and Princeton University professor Alan Krueger, 31 per cent of the company’s drivers continue to work full-time.

Galarneau said it would be impossible for him to do the 35-hour training. “A training course via audio through the app would be a good solution,” he added.

The Uber driver said he believes the company already regulates its drivers enough for the app to be a safe service.

To become an Uber driver, Galarneau said he had to show proof of his driver’s license as well as undergo a vision exam, a medical exam and a theory exam—all of which had to be completed through the Société de l’Assurance Automobile du Québec (SAAQ). Galarneau’s car also went through an initial inspection with Uber Montreal, which the company repeats annually. He said that, in total, all the exams cost him about $300.

When he first started driving, Galarneau said he only received an hour-and-a-half worth of training from a video he had to watch at the Uber Montreal office. He also explained that, if an Uber driver “constantly gets under 4.65 stars for their service on the Uber app, they are deactivated from the platform.”

“I’ve heard many customers mention that they prefer the services of Uber much better than taxis,” Galarneau said.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Uber: A win-win or a catch-22?

Taking a look at Uber’s devious practices in the business community

Last month’s cat-and-mouse game between Uber drivers and Bureau du taxi de Montréal (BTM) officers led to confusion, tension, vehicle seizures and even arrests.

BTM claims Uber drivers cannot offer paid rides without a taxi-driver’s licence or permit. Despite this legal grey area, Uber offered to pay their drivers to disobey the Quebec law. The resulting animosity between both groups is leading to groupthink, whereby Uber and taxi supporters irrationally conform to the views held by their own in-groups at the expense of actual facts.

As a fellow digitally literate young professional, I can see why it is so easy to buy into this hype and jump on the Uber-wagon. It’s a convenient, flexible and affordable transportation solution for many customers. Uber also allows common drivers to cash in on their otherwise non-monetized driving skills. In fact, the company claims a driver can earn up to $90,000 a year. So, how is this sharing economy not a win-win?

The problem lies in the dynamics of the relationship between Uber and its drivers. It is in Uber’s best interest to hire as many drivers as possible to keep up with the growing demand. Uber promises drivers a business-to-business (B2B) partnership, whereby Uber and drivers grow the brand ‘together’ to attract more consumers. As such, drivers feel solidarity with Uber, even though Uber is the sole owner of the brand.

This ambiguity in roles created by drivers’ illusory belief in an equal partnership precipitates a business dilemma. As Uber scales their product, which consists of others’ labour and transactions, less consideration is attributed to drivers’ needs. For this reason, a dissociation within this relationship is inevitable.

Photo by Núcleo Editorial.

So, how about that advertised $90,000 annual salary? Not surprisingly, a 2015 investigation by Philadelphia City Paper suggested that Uber drivers would have to work 27 hours a day to earn that much.

As users, we falsely assume Uber is socially and technologically innovative. According to Stanford Business, the value of social innovation accrues primarily to the society rather than single individuals. Specifically, the added value of a socially innovative idea is necessarily greater than the gains acquired by individual entrepreneurs. I do not think small-talk with strangers qualifies as social innovation.

Perhaps then Uber’s source of innovation is more technological than social. However, the truth is that technology actually plays a secondary role for Uber. Although it is evident that much effort has been invested into the app’s programming, nothing is overtly proprietary about its development.  

Uber’s talents are not epitomized by cutting-edge innovation. Rather, Uber crookedly  differentiates itself from the competition by finding legal loopholes and bending the rules. Worst still, The Observer claims that Uber has previously sabotaged Lyft (a competing app) by ordering thousands of fake rides.

Uber’s $62.5 billion USD net worth has lured governing bodies into making special, loose accommodations and exemptions. For example, training for Uber drivers consists of watching a 13 minute YouTube video, the privacy of customers’ information is questionable, and background checks are easy to get around, according to a report by The Globe and Mail. This is dangerous for several reasons. First, consumers’ health and safety is reduced merely to an afterthought instead of a top priority. Undeniably, taxi drivers require much more certification and testing.

Secondly, Uber has a disproportionately stronger negotiating position, and so drivers are left without any leverage in all key decision-making. Uber has the power to jack up prices when demand drastically increases as it does on holidays, whereas taxi drivers are required to charge regular prices and accept all customers without discrimination.

Lastly, Uber drivers are hired as so-called independent contractors—not employees, according to a report by CBC News. This means Uber can get away with denying responsibility or lying without ever being held accountable. For example, The Observer reported that Uber has been known to slash fare prices, which caused drivers’ earnings to drop below the minimum wage. Then, Uber actively blocked drivers’ repudiating tweets to minimize harm to their brand. Clearly, sharing is not always caring, especially when Uber doesn’t share any of the accountability.

Unlike taxi drivers, Uber drivers take on all the risks but none of the benefits. Uber drivers pay for all their car insurance, inspections, gas, repairs, maintenance, depreciation and sales tax. Meanwhile, drivers are rewarded with insufficient training, marketing advice and profit margins.

In sharing economies, users rent or borrow assets owned by someone else. Unfortunately, this business model has atomized the workplace. ‘Micro-entrepreneurs’ are working in ‘micro-economies.’ The result—a perfectly schemed catch-22—as consumers’ influence shrinks, the power of ‘sharing’ monopolies grow. All the while, we the consumers turn a blind eye. Uber has all the leverage, and we gave it to them. It’s time we jump off the Uber hype-wagon before it drives us into the ditch.

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