Find speakers by:
Request more info

City Politicians Should Welcome Uber

City Politicians Should Welcome Uber

Tech titan Michele Romanow is an engineer and a serial entrepreneur who started three companies before her 28th birthday. The newest (and youngest ever Dragon in 28 countries) entrepreneur to join CBC’s hit showDragons’ Den, Michele is the co-founder of e-commerce platforms and Snap By Groupon, which have saved millions of users hundreds of millions of dollars. Ranked in WXN’s “100 Most Powerful in Canada” and listed as the only Canadian on Forbes’ “Millennial on a Mission” (among other multiple honours), Michele brings her youthful energy and incredible entrepreneurial savvy to every stage. Below, Michele explains why, in her opinion, Calgary needs to welcome Uber with open arms:

Calgary raised me to be a Dragon — an innovator and a challenger. The spirit of the Wild West and its underdog roots have always encouraged hard work and innovation. Calgary also bred that same entrepreneurial spirit in my fellow Dragons — Brett Wilson, Arlene Dickinson, Jennifer Wood and Manjit Minhas.

Garrett Camp is a fellow tech entrepreneur and Calgarian. Six years ago, he created a magical app called Uber. I’m thrilled to finally see it come home.

The Uber ride-sharing platform enables qualified, background-checked drivers to pick me up in their own cars and drive me to my destination. Since UberX launched, I’ve taken more than 1,000 rides in 15 cities. It costs 30 per cent less than taxis, the cars are usually cleaner and better maintained, credit card payments are automatic, not refused, and the drivers never scoff at short fares.

At the end of every ride, I rate the driver and the driver rates me. Both parties treat each other respectfully, because ratings rule the Uber road. The ratings reward, and thus ensure, good behaviour.

With a high rating, I get a ride when I really want it (like at the end of a Flames game). With a low rating, I don’t. Similarly, the lower the driver’s score, the less business he gets. In addition, surge pricing (like after that Flames game) allows the system to peak respond. When there are more people requesting rides, prices rise and more drivers get in their cars to meet the demand. Never has a taxi system been able to do that.

A greater benefit is that Calgarians can make money driving while the economy works through a slump. I’ve met drivers from every walk of life — all using cars they already owned. Uber fits into any schedule — swipe on when you have time to drive. Swipe off when you need to stop.

Finally, Uber’s technologies are enabling behaviours that governments have wanted to encourage for decades — sharing. By having a safe way to share both our roads and vehicles, Uber significantly reduces traffic, eliminating the need to drive around looking for parking or use parking, which in turn reduces wear and tear on our roads and cuts carbon emissions.

A new report conducted with Mothers Against Drunk Driving reveals that when empowered with more transportation options such as Uber, people are making better choices that save lives. In California, drunk-driving crashes fell by 60 per month among drivers under 30 in the markets where Uber operates following the launch of UberX. That’s an estimated total of 1,800 crashes prevented since July 2012. This should be a big deal for governments.

So why isn’t Calgary welcoming this homegrown invention with open arms in a city that breeds innovation?

Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other representatives have been slow to act. They say it’s because they want to protect public safety. This doesn’t ring true. As a woman who uses Uber all the time, ride sharing is safer for me than traditional alternatives. There is a record of who picked me up. The GPS tracks my exact location. In a taxi, no one knows which driver picks you up or where you went. In addition, every ride on the UberX platform in Canada is insured.

Uber isn’t a new startup — it’s a $50-billion company that has changed the face of cities everywhere. Calgary had ample time to prepare.

My sense is that the city is protecting the taxi monopoly that municipal laws inadvertently created. The system served a purpose back then. Now, it only benefits millionaire taxi licence owners and exploits taxi drivers and riders. It’s hugely disappointing to see city hall stand in the way of Calgary innovation to protect a city-granted monopoly.

Calgary is better than this. More innovative than this. We’ve shown countless times that innovation has made our city successful – whether it was the innovations like SAGD drilling that was developed in the oilpatch and used around the world, or the Caesar.

I believe the sharing economy will be one of the great innovations of our generation – where people share their goods and everyone’s standard of living improves.

If you agree, please tell your city councillor. Winter is coming and no one wants to waste time freezing in the cold waiting for a ride when they can get one now, thanks to Uber. City council should serve its citizens, not the taxi cabal, and create rules that welcome ride sharing.

Calgary, your innovators have come home. Let’s keep the West Wild and welcome innovation. 

Michele Romanow/Calgary Herald/November, 2015