“Uber is an unmitigated force for good”

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a post titled “Uber is an unmitigated force for good”. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have any strong feelings about Uber, itself, and there are some valid concerns about them. The company has been known to engage in some shady business practices, and the contractor status of their drivers could be open to exploitation.

(And, to be clear, their drivers are independent contractors, and not just because they say so. Canada Revenue Agency has very clear rules to differentiate between independent contractors and employees, and Uber drivers are clearly contractors. However, just because something is legal does not mean it can’t also be exploitative.)

No, I was measuring my words carefully. I wasn’t going to say that Uber was “an unmitigated good”, I was going to say “an unmitigated force for good”. And it all came about from a little sticker.

(By the way, if you ever write anything remotely positive about Uber, you’re likely to attract trolls who either work for, or have some connection to, Ottawa’s corrupt taxi cartel. So let’s just get this out of the way now: Hi Trolls! Feel free to rot!)

A few months ago (shortly after Uber started rolling in Ottawa), I noticed that Ottawa cabs had stickers on the back of their cars trumpeting their new app (sound familiar?).  Obviously, this shouldn’t be big news, but Ottawa’s taxi cartel are notorious for not wanting to offer exemplary service. They were slow to take credit cards or debit cards. They had an antiquated ordering system. And they were likely to leave stranded in the middle of nowhere if they felt like it.

Now with the arrival of Uber, it appeared they were willing to step up their game and start providing the level of service their customers deserved. But…

When Uber came on the scene, the taxi cartel fought and fought hard. They’ve implored police to waste their resources policing Uber, and they’ve tried to use their notorious political influence to get their way at City Hall. (Jim Watson is a fervent opponent of Uber, but that doesn’t seem to a result of graft; he seems to be honestly irked by this company that is pleasing so many of his constituents.)

Well, that’s par for the course. They could keep up their rent seeking while also providing good service. It’d still be a step up.

Then the threats came.

The taxi union said that they couldn’t control their drivers, and didn’t know what they might do, hinting violence and vigilantism. In one of several self-indicting moments, the union made their drivers out to be wild animals who should never be allowed to serve the public.

This past weekend, we had a taxi strike. It was a little odd. The drivers promised that this strike wouldn’t actually affect service levels…an unintended admission that their service standards are about as horrid as you could imagine. Ottawa cabbies do not have a good reputation. Uber seems to get far more praise than condemnation from passengers. I do not know why cabbies would want to send customers to their over-performing competition.

This is all rather bad, but it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Demonstrating the inherent obnoxious entitlement in the taxi cartel, drivers are planning to hunt down Uber drivers. They’re going to go undercover, order Uber drivers, then…ambush them? Berate them? Attack them? Actually get to their destination in a safe and comfortable manner?

They’re going to do this to try to get the cops or bylaw to act (which they are already doing…this is just grandstanding…or whining…or both). Of course, if you’ve ever tried to get bylaw or the cops to address illegal behaviour on the road (like, say, dangerous driving by a Blue Line cabbie), you’ll know that these sorts of reports go absolutely nowhere (even as Ottawa Police Services keeps telling people to report infractions).

(This will be an interesting test to see if city council, bylaw and the police are actually in the pocket of big business. If cabbies get (even more) special treatment, we’ll know they are.)

So, maybe Uber isn’t an unmitigated force good. They’ve stirred something deeply ugly in the taxi industry, and it could get back for the public. Or maybe this is just another positive. Exposing the taxi cartel for the corrupt, self-entitled, rent-seeking bullies that they are probably counts as a public service.

Our cops don’t know the rules of the road

As happens on the internet, a bit of a cyber-squirmish broke out today. In response to this petition for Ottawa politicians to “create a safe and protected bicycle lane networks throughout the city“, one resident suggested we tell cyclists to stay on the right hand side of one-way streets. From there, Deputy Jill Skinner stepped in:

Deputy Skinner’s interjection was 100% incorrect. Here’s the actual law, as found on the city’s website:

Cyclists are required to ride as close as practicable (ie no closer than 1.0 metre) to the right curb of the roadway, except when…Preparing to make a left turn, passing another vehicle, or using a one-way street (in which case riding alongside the left curb is permitted)

Perhaps a whole new petition is in order.

Did Claude Giroux commit sexual assault?

Maybe?

Certainly not according to the Ottawa Police, even though the NHLer repeatedly grabbed a man’s ass at the Great Canadian Cabin on Canada Day. That man was a cop and Giroux was arrested, but he was never charged and eventually released.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about this matter. Why wasn’t Giroux chareged? Was it because he’s a famous hockey player? Is it because he grabbed a man’s butt? Why didn’t the officer press charges? Are big manly men not allowed to admit when they’ve been assaulted.

It is possible that this situation didn’t warrant an arrest, but how easily would we dismiss it if Giroux had groped a woman? (Granted, some people don’t really care about sexual assault.) What makes the whole situation worse is that the police were all too willing to gland-hand Giroux’s tem, the Flyers, offering them an inside scoop as they lied to Ottawa reporters.

Everything about this situation stinks, especially the idea that a sexual assault may have been waved away.

 

Ottawa Police Punish Cyclists During Safety Blitz

I think Ottawa cops have a weird sense of humour. They released the results of a recent “bike safety blitz” that was conducted on June 26th and 27th. “Safety” consisted of stopping and harassing counseling 130 bicycles on appropriate safety procedures. You know, wearing a helmet (which isn’t actually required by law), having the proper reflective tape, not going trough stops signs, having a whistle, wearing the proper clothing, never leaving your drink unattended at the… oh, sorry, that’s the wrong lecture.

What took this from just insulting to downright offensive was that this blitz came one day after the cops declared they’d not be filing charges in the death of Mario Theoret, the cyclist who was right-hooked last year.

And worse still, this hunt for cyclists will continue for the next month.

It shouldn’t take much thought to figure out why the police approach to “safety” is so boneheaded. The lack of a helmet or whistle are not the grand threats to my safety as a cyclist (in fact, the lack of a helmet might even be safer). No, the issues I have are the careless driving of motorists, infrastructure that is built for cars first and no one second, vehicles with massive blindspots and a mentality that all cyclists are scofflaws who are to obviously to blame whenever a car runs them over.

Take this quotation from Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Atallah Sadaka when talking about “bike safety”:

“The safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians is a priority for the Ottawa Police Service and this campaign was an opportunity to educate and conduct enforcement.”

Yes, when dealing with the safety of cyclists (who are far more vulnerable than motorists), this police officer mentions the “safety of drivers” first. It may seem unimportant, but it is telling.

What is particularly odd about this vendetta against cyclists is the city’s move to better accommodate cycling. Just today, the transportation committee approved a plan to build new cycling infrastructure in the east end, and the city unveiled new bike corrals in Hintonburg and the Glebe. (And, let’s not forget, the city is counting on hundreds of cyclists to make RedBlacks games attend-able.) It is absurd that the police–who work for the city and for the betterment of the city–would take this initiative to actively thwart cycling.

The audacity of Ottawa Police Services has had one effect on me, however. It has made me realize that the police do not care at all about my safety. They have no intention to protect me or my rights. They only think about cyclists as a nuisance to harass. So now I know. I can’t play nice expecting the city, the police or motorists to give any thought of me. I’ll take the lane. I’ll block traffic. I’ll do everything I need to do and I won’t play nice. Playing nice will only get me killed.

I also have no inclination to ever help the police, ever. (Granted, talking to the police any more than is necessary is a fools errand, bike or not.) They’ve thrown down the gauntlet. I’m not going to upheld the polite lie that the police officer is my friend.

In a nice twist, the Ottawa Citizen trolled the police last week. Publishing, on June 29th, an op-ed declaring Ottawa is still not safe enough for cyclists:

I heard the collision before I saw it — the thump of a car slamming into something soft, then a howl of anguish from a distraught witness. Biking around the corner, I saw the driver sitting frozen behind the wheel while four frantic pedestrians tried to help the injured cyclist.

Hardly a day goes by in Ottawa without us hearing a report of a cyclist getting hit. There are roughly 300 reported collisions annually between bicycles and motor vehicles in Ottawa, most occurring during the peak cycling months we’re in right now. (A reported collision is one in which the police are called, which means most collisions aren’t counted in this calculation.) And as our urban cycling history continues to be formed by eye-witness anecdotal accounts, news stories, ghost bikes and the annual accumulation of statistics, many feel our city is becoming more dangerous for cycling.

The word “whistle” is not mentioned once.

Councillor Eli El-Chantiry Questions Prosecution of Cop Guilty of Discreditable Conduct

West Carleton-March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry has asked a really pertinent question, why would we bother to prosecute a police officer who assaulted a citizen?

“The taxpayer of the city is on the hook for approximately a million — so did the SIU have a case?” he asked Wednesday. “The question should be sent to them — are they dealing with those cases on the merits of the evidence or are they dealing with it based on public pressure, they read the paper and they see public outrage about something and they acted?”

This is in relation to the Steve Desjourdy case. In case you don’t remember, Desjourdy was in charge of the cell block when an Ottawa resident was arrested without cause, assaulted by cops (as she resisted the patently-illegal detainment) and was stripped. It was Desjourdy who stripped the woman, cutting off her shirt and bra. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a strip search, this was… well… apparently nothing more than punishment for this woman daring to resist her unlawful detainment.

In total, three officers were charged, but it is Desjourdy who has received most of the criticism.

The abuse handed down by police in the cell block scuttled one legal case, which triggered an investigation, led to a lawsuit (which the police settled) and resulted in Desjourdy being found guilty of discreditable conduct by a disciplinary committee.

The committee, it seemed, didn’t like the fact that Desjourdy decided to cut the clothes off a woman. (You see, in pretty much any scenario, if you strip a woman (or a man!)  against her will, it’s sexual assault. Luckily for Desjourdy, the courts looked the other way in this instance.)

So, here we have a man caught on tape committing a crime. A judge has already called out the offending behaviour. An internal review as well as a disciplinary hearing have determined that the behaviour was indefensible, and the city has already given up defending itself in a lawsuit.

And our fair councillor, chair of the police services board, wonders why we might pursue criminal charges.

Perhaps it’s time for a period of introspection for Mr. El-Chantiry.