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A cab driver’s view of Uber: ‘They make up their own rules’

HAMILTON, Ont. – Bill Cranston has spent two-thirds of his life driving a cab.

The 65-year-old driver for Blue Line Taxi in Hamilton has spent 43 years behind the wheel as a cabbie, and he’s not exactly in semi-retirement. He typically drives from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m., so he’s seen it all from the driver’s seat of his taxi, still wearing a tie to work and sporting sort of a Western professional look to impress his riders.

But now Cranston is fighting a new foe that began picking up riders on Hamilton streets in late July:

Uber.

Cranston doesn’t mince words, calling those ride-booking drivers “parasites,” stealing cab companies’ business by failing to play by the same rules.

“We have to pay all these ridiculous fees and follow a set of professional guidelines,” he said. “There’s no guidelines for them whatsoever. They make up their own rules.”

Cranston provided a few examples:

• Taxi drivers, at least in Hamilton, have to attend the local Taxi Academy.

“To get into this business, it’ll cost you $1,000 before you even get into one of these,” he said of his colorful red 2010 Dodge Charger.

• Cranston and other drivers have to renew their taxi drivers’ licenses each year, costing them about $190, including the photo.

• Their vehicles must undergo safety checks every three months.

• They must abide by guidelines, including designated places where they are allowed to park and pick up passengers.

Uber, he claims, doesn’t observe any such rules.

“They totally ignore the rules of the road,” he said. “They do whatever they want.”

So how much has Uber hurt the taxicab industry in Hamilton?

Not so much during the day, Cranston suggested, when taxi companies’ contracts with local businesses and hospitals help protect the industry.

But he sees an impact at night.

“These guys are patrolling our bar business,” he said. “They’re cruising the bars and sitting in front of them. They’re not allowed to do that, and we’re not supposed to either. We can’t solicit business.”

Cranston just shakes his head at what he sees as the unfairness of it all.

“Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to Buffalo,” he said of Uber. “You don’t need that.”

– Gene Warner