Thursday, June 20, 2024
Opinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Will L&S November report change anything?

RWN/Taxi News publisher Rita Smith

I was once invited to a business workshop on “Structural Tension.”

It was delivered by a writer/business consultant named Robert Fritz, and it centred around the concepts of “oscillating systems” versus “advancing systems.”

An example of an oscillating system is a rocking chair, moving back and forth until it runs out of energy to move any more. An advancing system might be a wagon, rolling forward to an entirely new location so long as someone has energy to push it.

In business, an oscillating system might be a store with too much inventory: the manager can drop the price to attract buyers. But too many buyers might leave him with no inventory, so he’d then raise the price on the remaining inventory to slow down purchases. Rinse, and repeat…that’s oscillating.

Also in business, a manufacturer might decide to sell a men’s razor product for a very low price, in order to hook customers into purchasing the disposable blades at a reasonably high price. So long as the customer is happy with his shave, he’ll keep buying the disposable blades and even re-invest in a better razor when one is introduced. That’s an advancing system.

Robert Fritz’s theory of “Structural Tension” states that unless underlying systems are changed, the result will always be more oscillation: back and forth, back and forth, like a rocking chair. The only way to achieve an advancing system is to target something specific that needs to be changed, and change it.

Toronto has careened from microscopically extreme regulation of its Taxi industry for 50 years, to virtually zero regulation for ridesharing. Now, Licensing and Standards staff are writing a report on ground transportation for delivery in November, 2024.

No matter how much energy you put into rocking it, this chair will go nowhere. This is considered a systemic, underlying problem that needs to be fixed before progress can be made.
Image: Wayfair

This summer seems a great opportunity for the city to identify problematic underlying systems, and avoid ping-ponging into another decade of expensive and painful oscillation.

Quick, somebody, call Robert Fritz!

Well, we’re not going to get Robert Fritz, but Toronto has hired Gladki Planning Associates to run the consultations, so I’m just going to cross my fingers and hoping for two things:

  1. Gladki actually listens and actually hears what the industry has to say; and
  2. The Taxi industry presents itself as clearly and succinctly in these sessions as it did at the Economic Development Committee meetings last winter, when Council first realized that Toronto had actually gone from 5,500 Taxis to 55,000 rideshares.

It’s been fascinating, in recent months, to observe rideshare drivers like Uber and Lyft fighting to obtain virtually the exact same features Taxi drivers had in the previous system: a cap on the number of licensed vehicles; minimum rates so that drivers can earn a living wage; standardized regulation.

In Toronto, rideshare drivers have realized that allowing individual corporations to issue credentials does not offer the flexibility or security they need. Now they want the City to take over issuing one standard transferrable credential they can use with Uber, Lyft, HOVR or Taxi. Kind of like a City-issued Taxi drivers’ license.

Taxi operators, meanwhile, are irked that rideshare drivers get to use Ontario’s cheaper “wrap around” insurance policy while Taxi pays commercial rates. Why can’t Taxi owners access the “wrap around” policy?

In Ottawa on May 13th, Superiour Court Justice Marc Smith decided and stated very clearly, “Uber was a bandit Taxi company,” and that Ottawa was “negligent” in not enforcing its law upon it.

As Gladki Planning Associates sits down to listen to both Taxi industry and rideshare industry members in the weeks ahead, it will do so with the full knowledge that Toronto allowed its laws to be ignored and broken in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and that Uber has enjoyed a massive competitive advantage because Toronto did this.

If Gladki pretends this did not happen, it is ignoring the massive systemic failure that created the 2024 reality: open entry in ground transportation does not work generally, and specifically it will never work in a gridlocked city that wants to achieve “net zero.”

With the November report, we have a chance to advance, rather than oscillate. Let’s hope Toronto takes it.