Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An open letter to Mayor Jim Watson, about all this Uber mess

Hi Jim,

I want to talk to you about Uber. I know it's on your mind, I've seen you mention numerous times that the city will be reviewing taxi bylaws in the immediate future, and I can only assume that recent controversy surrounding Uber's presence in Ottawa is a main cause for the review.

When you're reviewing the bylaws, consider this: one of the main arguments against Uber is that it's unregulated and therefore not necessarily safe. I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, taxi regulation isn't necessary in the first place.

We're all adults here. We make our decisions about so many adult things every single day, and a lot of these involve strangers that have not taken a background check.

  • I can order a pizza and have it delivered to my door by a complete stranger who knows where I live and what valuables I possess, but I can't go home in an Uber car.

  • I can get drunk at a bar and get a lift home with a complete stranger who's had a couple of drinks but is under the limit and is going my way, but I can't go home in an Uber car.

  • I can get my neighbour's cousin Gary to come fix my washing machine for $20, but I can't go home in an Uber car.

  • I can meet and fall in love with a man named Steve, only to find out that Steve is living a double life and has a family on the side and his name is actually Gord, but I can't go home in an Uber.

Uber drivers and taxi drivers all have the same motivation: to make a living.  Sure there are the odd story here and there about Uber drivers misbehaving, but you can find just as many stories about licensed taxi drivers misbehaving.

I did an informal poll amongst my female friends about any unpleasantness they've experienced in licensed, regulated Ottawa taxis equipped with cameras:

Sheri: Almost every single cab I've been in over the past 20 yrs has made me uncomfortable by hitting on me. I had a really scary experience with DJ's cabs yrs ago where I was at the Makenzie st bridge by the mission when my cab driver got out and beat the shit out of a homeless kid trying to wash his windows.
Renee: There's one particular driver who always calls me, "Sweets": "Yes Sweets."; "Okay Sweets"; "Are you going to see your boyfriend Sweets?". It totally makes me feel uncomfortable. 
Julie: I had a driver hitting on me once as I was on my way to a party. Made me feel uncomfortable because I couldn't exactly walk away... 
Alex: At the end of the night I took a taxi home by myself. When the taxi arrived, the man driving took many opportunities to dis-empower me by consistently calling me Girl. He kept saying things like: “Hey Girl, it’s okay, trust me Girl, I’ll take care of you Girl”. At one point he called me sweetheart while he was asking some pretty invasive questions. I felt so dis-empowered and vulnerable that I was kinda afraid to tell him to stop calling me Girl and I was afraid of not answering his questions. 
Ashlee: The cabbie turned his whole body around when I got in and gave me the el creepo once over, spending a good amount of time on my tits while I tried to tell him where I was going. Then he told me how nice I smelled. He kept his hand on the back of the passenger seat in front of me the whole time, occasionally coming close to my knee as I tried desperately to keep distance between us.  When we finally stopped he told me the total $$ and slid his hand down the seat further while I looked through my wallet, staring at me the whole time. I put a ten in his hand trying to avoid touching his skin but he folded his fingers upward to make contact with my hand. Then said " you're paying me with money?" and gave me the most uncomfortable wink. 
Allison: He got out to walk me to my door uninvited, after asking too many personal questions about boyfriends and who I was with that night and scorned for talking about other men or that I had a date. "Oh, a beautiful girl like you, out there with all those men all the time tsk tsk tsk"

For the most part, these are cases of soft harassment, where the act isn't exactly egregious enough to report. Most people aren't going to call Blue Line and say "You know, my driver was being kind of inappropriate. No, he didn't touch me or threaten me but I felt kinda gross when I got out of the car."

On the other hand, Uber lets riders directly rate their driver (and vice versa) meaning that bad drivers and bad riders get their access to the app revoked if they misbehave. On top of that, Uber is VERY concerned with protecting their reputation. They know that the world is watching them closely and won't risk their reputation by not terminating any potential creeps at the first sign of trouble.

Every Uber user I've spoken to about Uber has nothing by nice things to say about it. They all prefer Uber over taxis. Cleaner, faster, cheaper, safer, more pleasant in general. Not to mention the added benefits of:

-no cash transactions;

-knowing exactly who your driver is because the entire trip is logged (as opposed to the all-too-real scenario where someone is tipsy, hails a cab, the cabbie harasses them and then when the whole thing is done, they don't remember the driver number or even which company it was, and the company has no official record of the ride because the cab was hailed);

-the assurance that the driver is using the fastest possible route to get you there (both driver and rider have access to Google maps to map out the trip);

-no tipping required;

-no refusal of short or inconvenient rides;

-no excessive service charge just to use a credit or debit card instead of cash; and

-no spending the entire trip listening to the driver yell into a Bluetooth headset at one of their friends (I've heard this complaint a lot).

So when the time comes to review the bylaws, it's really important that you ask the people of Ottawa whether they prefer Uber over taxis, and take their concerns very seriously. Give them the choice, as adults, to ride in a regulated taxi if they wish, or an unregulated but in my opinion equally safe Uber car. You don't need to hold our hands on our way home from the bar. We've got this.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Little Girl Who Cried Homophobia

Disclaimer: if I put in all the disclaimers that I felt the need to, they would be longer than the actual piece itself. The internet pages would pile as high as the moon. I left a few in for good measure.

Someone wrote to our local alt-rock radio station and complained about the lyrics to Blink 182's "What's My Age Again". Paraphrasing: "The song contains homophobic lyrics, and I think you should stop airing it. I'm sure the band thought this was funny once but now it's disrespectful."

I've heard this song plenty of times and I couldn't remember any homophobic lyrics off the top of my head. Mind you, I'm not so good with lyrics, so I thought I'd give 'er the ol' Google lyric search, and came up with what I'm guessing is the guilty language:

Then later on, on the drive home
I called her mom from a pay phone
I said I was the cops, and your husband's in jail
This state looks down on sodomy
I say "guessing" because this is far from homophobic, yet is the only thing remotely gay about the song (besides the song itself rimshot disclaimer I love the gays I have gay friends).

Sidenote: Here's a jokesplanation for anyone that may need it. The guy in the song prank called his ex-girlfriend's Mom, saying that her husband had been arrested for an illegal act of sodomy in whatever state they're in where sodomy is still illegal.

I think that the radio complainant either misunderstood the joke and thinks it's about prison rape (in which case it's less homophobic and more contributing to rape culture) or thinks that only gay people practice sodomy. Even if that were the case, how does that make the lyrics homophobic?

Disclaimer: as a straight white cis male sexual assault survivor with a decent job, my opinions on what is or isn't offensive are... well they're not strong. I mean, I believe the shit out of them, but they're not taken seriously by the politically correct crowd, and what follows will likely be tossed aside like an empty cup at a Tim Hortons drive-thru but here goes...

Listen PC police: you have to reign in your flagrant accusations of "that's blablaphobic" and "that's whatevercist" because you're basically diluting out the word to the point where it's becoming not meaningless but SUPER annoying.

Once upon a time, racist meant not giving someone an opportunity that they rightfully deserve, excluding them solely by the colour of their skin. Once upon a time, homophobic meant not wanting to shake hands with a gay man for fear of catching AIDS.

These days, even the slightest bit of perceived offense is called racist or homophobic or bullying because these buzzwords carry a lot of weight. Use one of these during a public calling out of a celebrity or corporation and you can bet there's gonna be some firing and apologizing because once one of these word bombs is dropped, the shit rolls downhill fast. Blogs and news outlets run with it and people end up apologizing just to make the mess go away.

The problem is that for each perceived offense that doesn't necessarily deserve such a drastic buzzword, it makes said buzzword more annoying.

Person A: Did you hear about so-and-so's *air quotes* racist tweet?
Person B: *rolls eyes* Here we go again, what's everyone overreacting to now?

This is the attitude you're inadvertently creating in others. Most people are decent and have a baseline level of political correctness that allows us all to co-exist relatively peacefully. But even these people have a line, and you cross it by calling out every single transgression as a hate crime, no matter the severity. Choose your battles and you may stand a chance at making a difference.

Disclaimer: the reason I said "little girl" in the title is because it was a girl that wrote to the station. At least, she had a girl name. I don't know how she identifies herself along the gender spectrum, and whatever her choice is that's fine with me. But her name sounded girly.