A word often used to describe the population cohort referred to as Millennials is entitled. Somehow many of those born around the turn of the millennium, and therefore in their twenties and thirties now, have a sense of entitlement. I must admit I don’t have much interaction with this age group, so I was at a bit of a loss to understand the concept.
Then along came the drive-sharing app called Uber. Essentially a taxi service, Uber uses GPS to put people looking for a lift in touch with drivers willing to take them. No money exchanges hands as the passenger’s credit card is charged automatically. But buyer beware, prices can “surge” if demand is high as many Uber users found out on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago.
Sounds all fine and dandy doesn’t it? Only one problem. Montreal, like most cities already has a taxi industry. To be a taxi driver here you need a taxi permit. Once paid for and obtained, and assuming you pass the police and background checks, you can legally drive a taxi, whether you own it or rent it from an owner.
To own a taxi is something a little bit more complex. This requires a taxi license. These were originally sold by the government to prospective owners for something in the neighbourhood of $20,000. With such a plethora of cabs on the road, the authorities stopped issuing new licenses, which help create a market-value system. As the ad below from Kijiji shows, current prices are in the $130,000 to $150,000 range (keep in mind, that does not include a car). So purchasing a taxi license here is akin to securing a mortgage. With tough competition making a living in the taxi industry is difficult at best.
Along comes Uber, a source of direct competition with taxis but without the license and other requirements. Whenever I ask an Uber user, or driver for that matter, if they perhaps feel any sense of guilt for undercutting taxis they inevitably sa no. As far as they are concerned they can do what they want when they want: they are entitled to do so.
I had a discussion with a Millennial bartender one day. He was all in favour of Uber and had no problem with the issue of bypassing the license and gouging clients during busy periods. I explained to him that in Quebec bar owners must obtain a liquor permit to be allowed to sell alcohol. The price is significant and varies depending on your establishment. In addition bar and restaurant owners must sell only liquor purchased from the Société des alcools du Québec outlets dedicated to such establishments. The price per bottle is significantly more that a regular consumer would pay, given the mark-up by the restaurant or bar. Run out of Jameson’s on a busy Friday and just nip up the street to the local store to buy one in a pinch and you face sever fines.
My bartender pal understood the system, no doubt better than do I. So I asked if it would be acceptable for me to concoct a strategy whereby I buy a bottle of whiskey at the regular price, skip the liquor permit altogether, and set up a card-table outside his bar selling shots for $2 instead of the $5 he charges inside. Because to me this is exactly what Uber is doing.
He could not see the parallel. From his point of view taking money out of his pocket by flouting the regulations was a bad thing. Yet he seemed to have no trouble screwing some taxi driver by Using the Uber app on his phone. I guess he was entitled to do so.