There are a lot of reasons I hate Uber, no matter how many headlines you read that they’re transforming the car-for-hire industry – that they’re the inevitable wave of the future, and that they provide opportunity to anyone willing to work hard. Buloney.
Uber is the biggest, noisiest example of the race to create a totally unstable and dangerous workplace. Virtually anyone driving for Uber right now – estimates are 20,000 drivers in Toronto alone – is doing so uninsured. It is against the law to operate a motor vehicle without appropriate insurance; if you’re driving for Uber and your insurance company is unaware that you are doing so, you have invalid insurance. If you think because you still have that little pink slip you’re covered, you’re not.
“If you tell your personal insurer you are using the vehicle to carry passengers for compensation, they will cancel the policy because it is no longer a personal-use vehicle. The coverage will have to be changed to a commercial policy,” says Debbie Arnold, Group Business Development Manager with Sound Insurance Services, Inc. in Toronto. “If you have not had any experience as a taxi operator, then typically the only recourse is Facility Association and it will cost upwards of $17,000 per year. If you don’t tell your insurer and you are involved in an accident while carrying a passenger, the carrier can and will most likely deny the claim.”
Insurance rates quoted in the media frequently quote the $10,000 per year mark; Arnold’s $17,000 was an actual quote for a customer who decided against becoming an Uber driver.
Maybe you figure the driver’s situation is the driver’s problem. You just want a cheap, fast ride. But one other detail that seems to get glided over is passenger protection. If you’re injured as a passenger, “your medical payments will be first paid by any healthcare coverage (i.e. through their employer); if there aren’t any or if those are exhausted, it moves to their own automobile insurance,” Arnold says.
An Uber driver sits in his car parked near the San Francisco International Airport parking area.
Jeff Chiu, THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP
If they don’t have group benefits or their own vehicle insurance, payments will have to be paid by either the Uber driver’s insurance policy (if policy was invalid, that insurer may sue the driver for these payments) or by the third party (other vehicle in crash) insurer, Arnold explains. Accident Benefits in Ontario are set up so that claims will be paid; the passenger will be taken care of regardless, however, it can be a long and confusing process since, effectively, the Uber driver wasn’t insured.
If the injury meets the “catastrophic” guideline and the Uber driver was at fault for the accident, then the Uber driver will be liable for any lawsuit and will be held personally responsible. Because there would not be any coverage under the Uber driver’s personal policy, he/she is responsible for whatever the award is once that goes to court (about five years) – during which time, the Uber driver will be incurring legal fees for which he/she is personally responsible.
Clear as mud, right?
Uber is far from the only company trouncing on regulations and skirting laws to set up shop, but it is one of the biggest and doing it right up the nose of every city it shows up in.
I did a totally non-scientific poll among some young Uber users: my son and his friends. Their overwhelming appreciation was about how easy and fast it was. A generation accustomed to hitting a button and having magic happen is made for Uber. “Drivers are competing to come pick me up!” laughed one. If you’ve ever waited for a cab that never came, it’s easy to understand the sentiment. “And, dude had, like, water bottles and everything,” he finished. They like that no money changes hands, as the app handles the billing through Uber. I asked what would happen if that driver, dude with the water bottles and everything, got hurt either on or off the job and couldn’t work for a period of time. “Well, another Uber driver would answer,” they concluded.
Why should a passenger care if a driver – a worker – is hurt on the job and not protected? I reminded the kids, their own protection in the event of a crash is not so clear-cut, either.
I don’t blame them for not wanting to see how the sausage gets made. There was one holdout in the room, a young man who simply stated, “This is about a corporation – Uber – getting rich but not having to be responsible for anything. Others – the drivers – assume all of the risk, and Uber just gets the money.” Uber says it makes clear their drivers must secure their own insurance coverage and that they are independent contractors. Seattle drivers recently won a ruling stating they are indeed employees of Uber and entitled to the protections that implies.
Uber rules in Canada differ from those in the U.S. Everybody wants to be an independent contractor until something goes wrong. Uber makes much of their $5,000,000 insurance coverage, but that’s to cover their own butt, not their individual “independent contractor” drivers.
It’s easier to earn a profit when you don’t have to factor in things like insurance and workers’ compensation. In Canada, drivers are expected to file HST returns, which means they’re supposed to be collecting that tax. If you earn less than $30,000 a year, you don’t have to charge or remit HST, but the Devil’s Advocate in me says that people who are shrugging off their insurance requirements are hardly going to worry much about remitting taxes, even when they meet that threshold.
Change is good. We’re seeing most industries get shaken up and reordered from the ground up, sometimes seemingly overnight. I’m a huge advocate of figuring out how to get on the train before it runs you over, but embracing change that eradicates human rights and how we value work, as well as individuals, is a fool’s game.
We are living in an era where there is always someone who will do your job for less, and watching Uber barge around the car-for-hire industry unmolested by regulation, screaming about the benefits for consumers while ignoring the cost to workers, is backward and ignorant. When yourjob is up next, when you’re undercut by a few bucks or someone who agrees to no benefits, when your position is flipped to a contract so you can’t secure a mortgage or plan for a family, let me know how cool Uber is.
Insurance companies are developing products as I write this (see below). Cities are wrestling with legislation that will acknowledge the demand for the Uber model. But if the appeal of driving for Uber is to make some money quickly and independently, unless those insurance premiums are thousands less than standard commercial ones and little more than personal ones (and they aren’t spread over a fleet, like standard cabs), the incentive to be legal won’t budge much.
Am I against the overhaul of the taxi industry as we historically know it? Hardly. The taxi industry should have cleaned up its own stable a long time ago. I’m not against the overhaul of any industry. I’m simply against that overhaul taking place on the backs of uninsured drivers and poorly protected passengers, so some corporate entity that doesn’t give a damn about either can make more money. This is less a giant step into our technological future and more like a giant leap back to the Wild West.
As this went to press, Aviva Canada – Canada’s second-largest auto insurance provider – announced plans to introduce an endorsement on personal policies to cover part-time rideshare drivers; it will cover collision and personal injury liability for rideshare drivers who spend no more than 20 hours per week using their personal vehicles to carry passengers. Rates, as yet unannounced, would still depend on a driver’s record, type of car and other activities, and will also require approval of the provincial regulator. While such a policy would bridge the lack of insurance, rideshare services still remain in contravention of most current city bylaws.