Edmonton and Uber. Each, young and confident, disruptive ideas.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE EDMONTON JOURNAL – December 17th

What a time to be an Edmontonian. Our city is enjoying what feels like an unbeatable energy; fed by our entrepreneurialism, a new confidence of identity and our ever-present community approach to building things.

Tapping into that energy, or perhaps helping feed it, this year’s E-Town Festival successfully challenged its 1,000 attendees to “think differently.” The festival is designed to “feed the mind and heart of people who get excited by innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought.”

Peter Diamandis, one of the festival’s keynote speakers, was perhaps the most challenging: presenting mind-bending examples of disruptive and exponential ideas and organizations. Diamandis founded the X-Prize, which made commercial space travel a reality and co-founded the Singularity University, a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution studying the ability of exponentially growing technologies to transform industries and solve humanity’s grand challenges.

Peter Diamandis is not a small thinker. Neither, I hope, are Edmontonians.

Diamandis talked at length about the rapidly expanding and truly disruptive nature of car-sharing services and Uber, in particular, a ride-sharing service that I have much personal experience with. In his words, “it fits the model of an exponential organization. It is democratizing travel options for users, it uses technology to dramatically improve a broken system and it is universally loved by its users and drivers.” He challenged us to imagine our place at the forefront of the “Uberification” of many things; which means, at least to me, a community of citizens using technology to share resources, helping each other, and unleashing entrepreneurial opportunity and a new economy.

But what is the greatest enemy of innovation? It is an establishment-biased fear of the unknown and an over-reaction of regulation, where regulation is not needed.

Cities around the world are fighting ride-sharing services, instead of adapting to work with them. My own discussions with some of our politicians and bureaucrats lead me to believe that Edmonton will be no different. They will argue concerns about safety and fairness, which are of course important, but they are misguided. With each of Uber’s product levels, from private citizen-driven uberX cars, to uberTAXI or the more luxurious uberBLACK car service, I have experienced a better product, at a significantly reduced price.

Like traditional taxi services, Uber drivers go through a rigorous background check. Drivers must maintain a minimum insurance coverage, supplemented by coverage from Uber’s policy. There is also a quality standard for Uber cars, which are also mandated to be newer vehicles. Conveniently, drivers and riders need not carry cash or credit cards: fares, including gratuity, are automatically paid from the phone-based application.

The advantages don’t stop with safety, quality and convenience.

Every ride is logged and GPS tracked in real time, so, if necessary, authorities can access driver and rider whereabouts. Before getting into a car, riders can review their driver’s service record and vehicle description, provided by past customers. Riders themselves are subject to similar anonymous reviews by drivers. A system that relies on both parties to maintain their reputation within the service is a system that, in my experience, provides cleaner cars, friendlier and more helpful drivers and no hassles with payment — every time.

Finally, we must consider impaired driving. Conveniently accessing taxi service, especially when needed most, as citizens pour themselves out of bars, can be impossible. Sadly, some citizens will make the irresponsible decision to drive impaired. If greater access to convenient and cost effective driving alternatives helps with this problem, we must embrace ride-sharing as one of those alternatives.
So, Edmonton, are we really ready to “embrace innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought”?

We are about to see a fierce debate play out in our city. The taxi industry will fight ride-sharing services. They naturally want to protect their monopoly. Some establishment-thinking politicians and bureaucrats will lack the courage to change our regulations and accept a product that virtually everyone wants.

Sadly, I know people who have gotten behind the wheel because getting a taxi was difficult. I need to support this service to help end that thinking. I want to support this service because of my own positive experiences with it. Join me to think differently; we can easily split the fare with these innovative apps.