Would you want to drive around strangers for money? File photo

Would you want to drive around strangers for money? File photo

COLUMN: Ride-sharing isn’t sharing, it’s commerce

Ride-sharing apps aren’t going to straighten things out for the poor drivers

Ride-sharing apps aren’t new, but they’ve been kept at bay in this corner of the world.

I have mixed feelings, although I despise the oxymoron “sharing economy.” Get this straight, if I give you half my sandwich and charge you, it’s not sharing, it’s commerce. All fine and good, but let’s not drape it in all this Millennial feelgoodery!

The issue of ride-sharing arose at a recent meeting in Campbell River where the regional district was asked to comment to a provincial committee looking into this increasingly common means of moving around. Some liked the idea, citing the high cost of flagging a taxi. I did take an Uber once when in Toronto on business with a friend, who liked the convenience and being able to track how far away the car was. It was handy, I’ll grant you. And taxis can be expensive. Of course, the cost to get licensing until recent years soared in some cities into the six-digit range. I read in Vancouver it was as high as $800,000.

I’ve seen this business from the other side of the dashboard. When I was still in university, I spent part of one summer driving hack in Victoria. I say “part” because the money was awful. Fortunately, my sister told me not to bother with rent money.

I only decided to drive because I’d been late getting a ride back to B.C. from school and couldn’t line up a better summer job. By the time I realized how horrible driving hack was, it was too late because by mid-summer most employers weren’t looking to hire someone leaving in September.

Some taxi companies might have had different pay arrangements, but the one for which I worked used a leasing system. You’d pay a chunk of money up front through the taxi company to the lease holder. Then you drove for 12 hours. You paid for fuel and a car wash before bringing the car back.

The job combined the worst of low-paying work with the uncertainty of running your own business. Some busy weekend nights you could earn a couple of hundred dollars. Other nights you’d lose money. You’d start each shift in the hole, and everything, including the measly tips, went to recover your lease payment, all in the hopes of getting enough business the rest of the night.

When the summer was over, I tallied my net for those brutal 12-hour graveyard shifts and found I made about one-third of the province’s minimum wage. Think about that next time you kvetch over the cost of cab fare to the airport.

Anyway, that fall I went off to my internship job at a daily paper in Edmonton. One day, I was taking a taxi to an assignment and the driver told me, “The taxi business never gets straightened out. When times are good, no one drives and everyone takes taxis. When times are bad, everyone’s driving and no one’s taking them.” I knew only too well after my previous few months.

My hunch now is these ride-sharing apps aren’t going to straighten things out at all for that guy or anyone else willing to sit in a car all night to give rides to strangers. Call it the “new economy” or whatever you want, but I’m calling bull.