This afternoon I saw on Twitter that Toronto Police are now starting to crackdown on UberX drivers in the city. The investigation is called “Project Snowball” and they have already charged at least 11 people. The fines are anywhere from $200 to $20,000.
My response on Twitter was the following:
I get that Uber is a highly disruptive company. I’ve written about it many times before. But at the end of the day, this is not just about Uber. This is about a larger shift in the economy.
The buzz term is “sharing economy.” But one of the ways I like to think about it is like so: Facebook doesn’t produce any of its own content, and yet you could define it as a media company. Airbnb doesn’t own any rooms, and yet it is disrupting hotels. Uber doesn’t own any cars or plates, and yet it is disrupting the taxi industry.
What’s happening is that the internet and mobile phones are allowing for peer-to-peer connectivity and more decentralized forms of marketplace supply.
What does that mean?
It means that instead of having a fleet of cars or a centralized hotel building, anyone with an extra car or an extra room (and an internet connection) can plug themselves into the market. And that represents an entirely different cost structure for businesses.
It’s worth noting that prior to Uber, Travis Kalanick founded a peer-to-peer music sharing company called Scour (1998). Its closest equivalent would have been Napster. Remember Napster? This is not a new trend.
That said, I still think we’re at the early stages of this shift. I predict that many other industries will see disruptors similar to Airbnb and Uber. And so when I look at it in this context, I have a hard time believing that fining UberX drivers is the most enlightened way forward.
I believe we should instead be taking a leadership position and trying to figure out how to adapt our rules and regulations to this changing economy. Toronto is not alone in this battle. But we could certainly be the one to lead the way out.