Pirates of the Pavement: How Uber is Forcing the Taxi Industry to Change (Whether We Like it or Not)

GTY 495298219 I FIN HUM GBR EN When Alexandre Meterissian, a senior strategy consultant at Hatley, needed a ride across Montreal in the early afternoon, he simply took out his mobile phone and booked a car to pick him up. He didn’t call a taxi; he used the popular yet controversial Uber app, which connects Uber drivers with passengers. When his ride arrived, Mr. Meterissian and his driver experienced a great deal of difficulty leaving the corner of Sherbrooke Street and St-Laurent Boulevard. Two taxi drivers witnessed the Uber driver pick up Mr. Meterissian and actually blocked the driver from leaving. The cab drivers and the Uber driver got into a heated discussion, which resulted in Mr. Meterissian ordering a different Uber driver across the street. The new driver was also obstructed, and actually had to pull onto the sidewalk to escape the cab drivers obstructing his vehicle.

This scenario reads like a chase scene straight out of a Hollywood film, but the controversy surrounding Uber is very serious, and affected cab drivers are not welcoming the service deemed illegal by numerous city mayors, including Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal. For those unaware, Uber’s business serves either passengers or potential drivers. An Uber driver can be anyone with a vehicle that meets criteria set by Uber, and these drivers act as independent contractors for the Uber company. A passenger uses the Uber app to order a driver to their location, and the app takes care of the fare (including tip). The driver gets the bulk of the fare, with the rest going to Uber. Passengers can select from a variety of vehicle types, from the general service UberX, which alerts every driver in the area, to more selective services like SUV (for larger groups) or LUX, which sends a luxury vehicle. Essentially, anyone can make money with nothing more than their car and their cell phone, and passengers save on cab fares. Seems great, doesn’t it? Not quite. Uber The problem with Uber is that because these independent contractors also happen to be operators of unlicensed taxis, they run into numerous legal complications with regards to insurance. Uber drivers are not required to hold a taxi license or the particular insurance that comes with that. As a result, it is much cheaper for both driver and passenger to use the Uber service, and this is the core reason why Uber is able to undercut local taxi companies so fiercely.

Taxi drivers protest against an Uber vehicle.

Taxi drivers protest against the use of an Uber vehicle in Madrid, Spain.

The opposition met from local taxi companies is largely due to the fact that Uber drivers are essentially breaking the law and don’t have the financial burden of expensive taxi licensing or insurance, and have been labelled pirates as a result. Uber has also been criticized for surge pricing, which is when the price of service skyrockets in times of heightened demand. The anonymity of Uber drivers is also seen as a major issue; numerous reports of drivers sexually assaulting passengers have arisen in the past few years, and passengers have no way of protecting themselves against this due to the structure of Uber.

An Uber driver was arrested for allegedly kidnapping a drunk female passenger in Los Angeles.

An Uber driver was arrested for allegedly kidnapping a drunk female passenger in Los Angeles.

The street goes both ways, because drivers are also left unprotected against passengers if they turn violent. No standard for security cameras or other protective measures exists in the Uber driver code of conduct. Recall the allegation that Justin Bieber and his entourage violently assaulted a limousine driver in Toronto last year. That driver, Abdul Mohar, was in fact an Uber driver who answered a call on December 30th, 2013 outside Time Nightclub in Toronto. The driver alleges that Mr. Bieber punched him in the right side of the face repeatedly when he refused to turn the music up to maximum volume. If these alleged actions had have caused an accident, the driver could have in fact been sued by Mr. Bieber’s party because he was technically operating an unlicensed taxi at the time, even though Uber does offer insurance coverage of $5 million in general liability. The driver is currently suing Mr. Bieber for $850,000 in damages, but the case is muddled with the legality of being an Uber driver, and the driver could very well lose the case, especially considering Mr. Bieber can afford much better legal counsel. Mr. Mohar has since stopped using Uber as a result. Since Uber is such a new service, the law has not matured enough to properly accommodate cases involving the service.

Justin Bieber is being sued by an Uber driver for an alleged assault on Dec. 30th, 2013.

Justin Bieber is being sued by an Uber driver for an alleged assault on Dec. 30th, 2013.

Despite all of the opposition from local governments and taxi driver unions, Uber will continue to persist within the personal transportation economy because they offer a more enticing service to both drivers and passengers. What Uber is catalyzing in the transportation industry is not unique; this effect has been occurring for hundreds of years, and it all started with the efforts of the swashbuckling sailors we affectionately refer to as pirates.

Some of the Dutch East India Company's fleet.

Some of the Dutch East India Company’s fleet.

Pirates came to be as a result of a revolt against the trade monopoly possessed by the Dutch East India Company back in the 17th century. Often described as the first multinational corporation, the DEIC controlled crucial shipping routes from Europe to Asia, and maintained a workforce that was estimated to exceed one million people. The DEIC possessed thousands of ships, maintained forts and staffed them with soldiers, and was essentially an economic juggernaut. That is, until some sailors decided that the current economic code wasn’t to their liking, so they decided to rewrite it. Pirate ships started out small, but as popularity of the movement grew, so did their targets.

Piracy eventually helped to break up the monopoly of the DEIC by helping to spur the change of employment standards. By today’s standards, the DEIC was not a good employer. Mortality rates were high, salaries were low, and employee safety was not on the map. Despite what we think of pirates, they actually introduced some revolutionary standards in employment quality. For example, it was written in the pirate code that if a man became injured on the job, his salary for that time would increase and he would receive subsidized medical care. Essentially, pirates helped create the world’s first draft of employee benefits – they weren’t just about walking the plank. by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris Pirates have surfaced in various industries throughout history in order to enact lasting change. Past examples include pirate radio stations that broke up the monopoly that the state-run BBC had on radio broadcasts and the peer-to-peer music sharing service Napster, which forever changed the sale and distribution of music. Uber is the latest in a long line of pirate organizations to create change to the code of its industry. While taxi companies and municipal governments may be strongly opposed to the operation of Uber in the cities they serve, the company, or at least the change it is driving, is not going to disappear. Consumer support for lower fares, simplicity of operation, and a chance to earn money on the side as a driver has clearly won the favour of citizens despite backlash from taxi drivers and government officials.

Napster can be considered a pirate organization.

Napster can be considered a pirate organization.

Just as Napster forced the music industry to create better services when it came to distributing and selling music, Uber will force cab companies to alter their rate structure and drivers’ cab rental fees, and it will force cities to lower the price of a taxi cab license in order to compete with the services Uber will offer. For example, to purchase a taxi medallion in New York City, an owner-operator must come up with about $1 million. Corporate medallions can go for more, with prices reaching $2.5 million for a pair of medallions to own a mini-fleet of two cabs. In Toronto, the average taxi license fee has reached as high as $250,000, but that value has dipped to around $150,000 due to a recent legislative change that requires the owner of the taxi license to also be the operator of that vehicle. Toronto city officials estimate the average full-time cab driver makes $31,000 per year.

As problematic as Uber is, the lower fares and better income prospects are forcing positive change in a taxi industry that has seen the price of licenses balloon to unaffordable amounts. The ease of use of the Uber app will also force cab companies to develop their own cab hailing apps to compete with technologically superior services like Uber, Lyft, or car-sharing organizations. The good news for opponents of Uber is that while the overall ethos of the pirate organization will never cease to exist due to its role in the ongoing evolution of capitalism, individual pirate firms are often short-lived. This is due to the formation of new services or the alteration of existing ones.

For example, Napster is now defunct in favour of legally sound music services such as iTunes, Amazon, or Google Music, but that didn’t change the impact Napster had on the music industry. Uber may avoid complete dissolution by diversifying into a legitimate player in the big data scene, but like pirate firms of the past, legal opposition will eventually catch up to Uber and reduce its prevalence in the personal transportation sector. Like it or not, Uber will force the taxi industry to alter their pricing and digital strategy or risk being left behind. Like previous iterations of pirate firms before it, Uber will be remembered as a disruptive, albeit necessary, force of change within the transportation industry, and its influence will likely create lasting improvement, even if the service itself is far from perfect.

Despite protests from taxi drivers and government officials, Uber may invoke positive change within the taxi industry, despite all of the negativity associated with the service.

Despite protests from taxi drivers and government officials, Uber may invoke positive change within the taxi industry, despite all of the negativity associated with the service.


9 Tips For a New Grad Looking For a Job

As a new grad looking for a job, you’re probably faced with a lot of pressure to find a job. The current unemployment challenges facing new grads are a steady topic in the news today, and I wanted to share some lessons that I’ve learned that will help new grads looking for a job.

1) You’re not that special, so stop thinking that you are.

A new grad looking for a job needs to understand one thing above all else: you’re not special, and neither am I; most people aren’t that special. Unless you wake up in the morning and see Bill Gates when you look in the mirror, you’re not that special or important in the grand scheme of things. And that’s ok!

I’m not saying that you should go around hating yourself, but there is an overabundance of self-love and narcissism present in our world today, and a little humility can go a long way.

How can you apply this outlook to get a job easier? You’re going to have to start somewhere, so apply for any job that you can get. Don’t go around thinking that there are certain jobs that are “beneath” you.

My advice is get a position in a client-facing role in order to meet more people. Work in a coffee shop around a lot of businesses that your skills are suited for. Chat with customers. Get to know them and let them know a bit about you. Make it clear what type of work you want to do, but kick ass at the job you currently have to show that you take pride in your work no matter what the job is. Networking goes so much deeper than just attending networking events.

2) Know the strengths and weaknesses of your degree.

New grads looking for a job need to know the ins and outs of their education. Every degree in university has a set of hard and soft skills taught throughout the course of the program. Some degrees are more writing intensive, while others teach data analysis. Some encourage a good deal of collaborative group work, and others require a lot of presentations. Think critically about what your degree has taught you, and what you could improve upon. Volunteer or self-teach to fill those gaps (see later points for further explanations).

3) Recognize what skills are currently in demand. Learn one on the side. Turn it into a hobby.

I was recently speaking to a colleague who works for a large insurance company, and they informed me that there were currently 40 unfilled programming jobs at their office, and almost 1,000 in the city of London, Ontario. More and more businesses are adapting to the times and recruiting freelance digital creative employees, so new grads looking for a job need to consider learning a digital trade, like coding, web design, or graphic design. A sociology degree is all too common nowadays, but a sociology major who has a graphic design side-business can be quite valuable for a company. You can save the company a lot of time and effort while simultaneously enhancing your own value as an employee by bringing more skills in-house than the position requires.

A great way to get your foot in the door is to offer pro-bono work to build a professional portfolio and gain experience with the particular skill you’ve decided to learn. Learned some basic web design? Use your spare time on a few Sundays and offer to build a local church a whole new website. Decided to take up photography? Offer free engagement photo sessions on Kijiji or just by asking around on social media.

4) Volunteer strategically

As we progress through high school and university, we’re told that volunteering looks great on a resume, which is a partial truth. I’m a big fan of volunteering, and I’ve done a great deal of it throughout high school, university, and beyond. There are a great deal of skills you can learn from volunteering, but the mistake most people make when they are listing past volunteer experience on their resume is that they list EVERY recent position they’ve had. The problem with this approach for a new grad looking for a job is that it clutters your resume and fails to tell a clear story of who you are.

When you’re looking into volunteer opportunities, any new grad looking for a job should seek out positions that will help you develop skills that will complement your current value as a potential employee. For example, if you want to get hired as a writer, then instead of listing “excellent written communication skills” on your resume like every other university grad ever, seek out a volunteer opportunity that involves writing. Want to break into the sales & marketing game? Look into volunteering for charities or non-profits that would welcome some assistance in that department. If you can’t find a position, try cold-calling to establish your own. Use your volunteer opportunities to gain experience with the skills that will complement your degree.

5) Create and maintain a LinkedIn profile.

Unless you have insanely good connections or your parent(s) own a company, any new grad looking for a job should probably create a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is Facebook for grown-ups, and while most of the site is full of shitty career advice articles like this one (or this one) that won’t actually make a difference in your life and unnecessarily lengthy descriptions for entry-level positions, LinkedIn is still a valuable tool in your job search. A fantastically detailed LinkedIn profile will not guarantee that you’ll get a job, but not having one can only hurt you.

At a basic level, a new grad looking for a job should have a well-rounded LinkedIn profile, complete with a high quality photo of you dressed professionally (or whatever the appropriate context is for the job you seek). Your description should be brief and to the point. You shouldn’t have some pretentious autobiography as your description (see Point 1). Don’t worry about skills and who has endorsed you for them; recruiters don’t pay attention to that (one of my friends has endorsed for “katana”). If you want to up your LinkedIn game, you can look into keyword optimization, a premium account, posting articles on your page, and even try engaging with thought leaders in your industry in a discussion on other articles you see.

6) Don’t forget to edit your resume.

When you graduate from university, don’t forget to trim your resume. Employers sometimes receive hundreds of resumes for one position, and recruiters often take a mere 30 seconds to skim over your application. Resumes that are longer than two pages are usually immediately discarded for the sake of time. You’re a new grad looking for a job; there is no reason that your resume should be longer than 2 pages. Do not list every little thing you’ve done and avoid overly lengthy descriptions of past positions. In fact, I’d advise to leave out the entire description of what your past position entailed unless it was a more obscure one. There’s no point in dressing up mundane tasks in overly verbose clothes. Instead, highlight important accomplishments from past positions, make use of bolding certain key terms, and keep it neat & concise. Challenge yourself to reduce your resume to one page.

7) Fit in with the culture of where you apply

This one may be the most important, because it is often the final deciding factor. I do realize that the first bit of advice was “apply everywhere!”, but applying this advice to any most entry-level positions can only help your chances as a new grad looking for a job. For most entry-level positions, the top candidates will all match closely on paper, but the best candidate is the one that fits into the culture of the organization the best.

For example, let’s say that you’re applying to Lululemon for a entry-level marketing position. You have a business degree, a post-grad diploma in marketing, and you even have freelance graphic design experience. That’s great, and while you may be qualified for the position in terms of your education and experience, unless you fit in with the culture of Lululemon, you may get overlooked for someone else.

The reason for this way of hiring is that at the end of the day, qualifications mean far less than a proper culture fit. The company is going to train you their way, and all of your experience and education will make your transition to the new role easier, but after you’ve been trained is what companies are really concerned about. No one at Lululemon really cares if you graduated top of your class if you’re not passionate about fitness and overall wellness – two values closely aligned with the company’s mission.

A good way to see if you fit with the values of a company is to simply cold call a current employee and ask for a moment of their time to see if they can answer a few questions about the culture of the company. If you want to apply to a bank that’s full of very competitive and athletic people, your own life had better mirror those values, otherwise you probably won’t get hired; people prefer those similar to them, so if you don’t match the culture, your chances of getting hired are slim.

8) Play sports. Join a club. Get outside of your home.

This aligns closely with the previous tip about culture, but following this advice will connect with you with people from all different walks of life that are connected by a common interest or hobby. If you really want to think about this strategically, pursue activities that you enjoy that are associated with more affluent members of society like road cycling or photography. Both of these hobbies allow for constant upgrading as your income and skill level increases, so they attract all sorts of people, but seem to be populated with a good number of affluent members.

Say you buy an entry-level DSLR camera and join a local photography club. A good amount of the conversations that will occur when a younger person first joins a club will be personal ones (what did you take in school, what do you do now, what do you want to do later, etc…). If any member of the club works for a company that happens to be hiring, or they know a friend of a friend’s brother’s uncle that is hiring someone with qualifications similar to yours, a personal referral is worth its weight in gold. It is estimated that almost 80% of jobs are not publicly listed and are filled internally or by personal referral. Take advantage of this and get your face out there.

9) Complement your degree with a post-grad program that makes you more valuable.

Think back to point 2. On their own, most university degrees are not that useful at face value. If you’re not having any luck as a new grad looking for a job, consider augmenting your degree with a post-grad program, accelerated degree, or a new program altogether. Common examples include a post-grad degree in marketing if you took business or psychology, an accelerated nursing program if you took science in undergrad, or a project management diploma if you took engineering or business.

I hope these tips help any new grad looking for a job and that you’ve realized what the underlying theme is: get out and meet people! If you have any questions or want some advice, feel free to contact me via email (listed in the about page).