My Recent Conversation with an Uber Driver

The last several weeks have been heavy travel months for me, and I’ve had the opportunity to use Uber a handful of times before they were kicked out of the province of Alberta. I am not a fan of parking at the airport, and so I frequently will catch a ride to avoid taking my car. Below are a few of those experiences.

Uber driver #1

My first time ever using Uber was about 15 minutes before I had to head to the airport. 6 minutes after downloading the app and setting up my account, there was a friendly driver in a brand new, immaculate black Honda Pilot in front of my house. 

I struck up a conversation with the driver (Bruce) as I was curious about the type of people using the app as drivers. It turned out that Bruce is a father of 3, and an entrepreneur who owns a big truck for his livelihood. In the winter time he clears snow for the city, and in the summer he hauls gravel. With this current winter being unuasually mild, Bruce’s truck has sat dormant for most of the winter while he continues making payments which include storage. In order to make ends meet, Bruce has enjoyed the convenience of driving part time through the use of Uber.

Uber driver #2

For my second trip to the US this year, I was greeted in less than 5 minutes by a clean and welcoming mini-van. My driver this time (Dan) was a single dad with a young boy around the age of 8. I noticed hockey sticks in the back of Dan’s van and learned that when he is not selling medical equipment to hospitals he is coaching his precocious 8 year old son. With the tough economic conditions, Dan’s regular gig has taken a hit, and Uber has been a convenient method to make extra cash to help out with his son’s financially demanding hockey activities.  

These were just two of my at least 6 experiences using Uber, and with each trip I noticed something interesting. It occurred to me that the typical driver profiles were pretty average Albertans wanting to get ahead in the face of the many challenges we’ve faced as a province over the last year: namely…

  • More than 100,000 oil related jobs have been lost
  • The price of our oil, our key economic driver has fallen by more than 70%
  • Our economy has hit a floor not seen since the early 80s

Attempting to turn Uber into a taxi company

The types of drivers that I met using Uber were not full time taxi drivers, and I think that is the beauty of the platform. And this is a point that I think our government is failing to realize. Uber is not a replacement for taxis, it is a disruptor of taxis. I understand that this comes across as alarming for many people. But we have to take a step back and understand why it is that Uber is so disruptive. 

In my previous post I wrote about disruptive businesses leveraging technology to become extremely customer-centric. Uber has accomplished this feat, and its success is merely a reflection of the masses voting with their wallets. 

 By imposing regulations such as mandatory background checks as well as license and insurance upgrades, it no longer exists as a ride sharing app. We are creating another taxi business. As an entrepreneur, I see a service and business model that is near perfection when it comes to connecting supply and demand. Drivers who want to give rides being matched seamlessly and automatically with drivers who want a ride. A driver validation and rating service in my mind is more than adequate to give me confidence in the person picking me up.

What does this mean for Alberta?

In the face of our numerous economic challenges at present, I remain incredibly optimistic about the spirit and capabilities of creative entrepreneurs who will innovate their way out of this situation. What I am apprehensive about is that our government has demonstrated a level of bureaucracy signaling to businesses and investors that Alberta is not a progressive province. As a result, what we are seeing and will continue to see is a mass exodus of talent and capabilities from our province by people with good ideas. As an example, I have met more Canadians than I can mention who have moved to California and seen incredible success. When polled, every one of them cited that they didn’t think their ideas stood a chance of succeeding in Alberta.

We have incredible and very capable people in our province and in our country, and I do see a bright future – eventually. I agree that our oil rich privilege has created some apathy that we will need to push through in order to return to prosperity. But this will take a change in mindset, especially on the part of our elected representatives. I see Uber as a first strike, and we’re now sitting 0 and 1. It’s not too late. 

In the meantime, I hope to see more than a dozen Uber drivers in Edmonton when the platform returns this summer. 

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