Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Uber decals are often available on eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Photo: Facebook
Opinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Ignoring common sense doesn’t change common sense

First emissions, now sexual assault: reality strikes again

With dismay, I read holiday media reports that at least two women appear to have been sexually assaulted by a man posing as their Uber driver.

Whether he actually IS a rideshare driver, or is simply a creep in a car pretending to be an Uber driver, is not yet known. Police in Toronto and York Region note that he could be driving for more than one rideshare app

What definitely is known, however, is that it’s much harder to identify an unmarked rideshare car than it is to identify a Taxicab. Painted in loud, contrasting colours with permanently-affixed roof lights and a plate number 10 centimeters high painted on both sides and the trunk, Taxis were designed to be highly visible because visibility WORKS, for both safety and in attracting business.

In October, long-time Taxi industry observers were astonished to see Toronto’s new Council members including Alejandra Bravo and Mayor Olivia Chow challenge the idea that the city could reduce emissions while allowing open entry for thousands of rideshare vehicles.

It was amazing to watch this common-sense realization dawn on Councillors’ faces during the Zero Emissions Vehicles discussion: you can’t allow the number of vehicles for hire to explode from 5,500 to 55,000 and be serious about emissions.

It is one or the other; Toronto can’t have both.

Will a similar realization dawn with regard to the safety issues inherent in the use of unmarked vehicles to offer paid rides? Often these rides take place in the dark of night, and involve individuals who may have consumed enough alcohol to blur their vision and impair their judgement: in short, every parent’s nightmare.

In decades past, when it came to making Toronto’s Taxi industry as safe as possible, common sense dictated that Taxis (which also pick up drunk individuals in the dark of night) have permanent roof lights, branded paint jobs, a plate number painted on both sides and screwed into the trunk, and most recently, $1600 security cameras which operated automatically with every fare with video accessible only to police.

Anybody can buy this Lyft light on eBay; you don’t need to be an actual Lyft driver. Image: eBay

For seven years in the 1990s, I ran Metro Toronto’s “Taxis on Patrol” (TOPS) program, and every year we received dozens of reports of Taxi drivers helping women in distress, helping men in dangerous situations, saving the lives of babies and once even a police officer.

The glaringly obvious markings of Taxis – paint jobs, roof lights, plate numbers – were not the only reason drivers were able to help strangers, but it helped.

Police have always liked the fact that Taxis are highly visible in traffic; it makes them far easier to spot during an incident. Sometimes they are caught driving through the background of security footage, in which case the driver might be tracked down as a witness. Unfortunately, police under then-Chief Mark Saunders were shamefully silent when John Tory’s Council blessed unmarked rideshare vehicles.

At one memorable TOPS event, I ordered balloons in the colours of Toronto’s major Taxi brokerages at the time: red and yellow for Co-op, green and orange for Beck, black and orange for Diamond; blue and red for Maple Leaf.

Arranging the balloon bouquets on the stage, a painful thought flashed through my mind: “Wow, that is the ugliest, most garish stage, with the loudest colours, I have ever seen in my life. Let’s never do this again.”

The stage was a huge success – because loud, garish colours were the whole entire POINT of the industry colour key. Loud, proud, and in your face; highly visible, to tipsy fares and busy police officers.

It was common sense. It still is.

For $5 USD, you too can identify yourself as an Uber driver. Image: eBay