UBER HAS MORE THAN 100 YEAR OLD CANADIAN PREDECESSOR
CATEGORY: [INFORMATIVE] | TAGS: [informative,november,news,history]
As reported on www.Driving.ca on November 9, 2016 - Link to original article by Clicking Here.
Written By: Dale Johnson (Driving.ca)
The current kerfuffle confronting cabs and Uber in cities across Ontario is strikingly similar to a battle a century ago. That’s when jitneys arrived – private passenger cars offering rides to strangers for a fee, originally five cents. Like Uber, the arrival of jitneys confused and puzzled legislators, was praised by riders and provided a chance for car owners to earn some money. Also like Uber, there were concerns about safety, insurance coverage and the qualifications of drivers.
Jitneys disrupted the traditional passenger transportation system; it was not the taxi industry that was affected, but the privately owned municipal street railway system (as well as the city-owned Toronto Civic Railways) in the era before the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) was created.
The first mention of jitneys was in the Toronto Daily Star on Jan. 29, 1915, under the headline “The Jitneys Are Coming.” The article said: “A new form of opposition to trolley cars has arisen. It is the Jitney – or the five-cent auto ride … . No franchise is granted, anybody that can buy one can operate it wherever he can get enough business to make it pay … . It has been found that an ordinary auto can make money in the business, and everyday sees more and more of them engaging in it.”
The first jitney in Toronto was front-page news on Feb. 22, 1915: “THE JITNEY ARRIVED IN TORONTO TO-DAY” and the article said the first run was in the Rosedale area just north of downtown at 7:50 a.m., from the corner of Glen Road and South Drive. “Five minutes later it turned at the corner of Summerhill avenue and Glen road, and after a short pause started back again … . The machine caused no small sensation. Every pedestrian headed toward the cars was greeted by a tooting of the motor horn as a signal.”
A reporter on that very first trip wrote that passengers included a “young bank clerk who got up a little late and an elderly gentleman who found the walking slippery.”
Jitneys were soon popular across Ontario – especially in areas that had poor streetcar service.
“The ‘jitney’ has caught on in West Toronto. A large seven-passenger touring car, bearing the invitation ‘From Keele to Lambton. Five cents.’ made its debut at the corner of Keele and Dundas streets at 4:00 yesterday, and soon had on board a capacity load,” the paper reported on March 20, 1915.
As the word spread and jitneys became more popular, they also became more crowded.
One person who used to ride jitneys was Bill Newberry, who arrived in Toronto from England in 1912 at the age of 13. Newberry wrote in the Star on June 13, 1970, about his memories of riding in jitneys from work downtown to his home on Helendale Ave., just north of Eglinton and Yonge.
“On a winter’s night, 30 or more people would wait for one of these Noah’s Ark vehicles. When one did appear, everybody would rush and fall inside, one on top of each other with no respect for the car, the driver or his ability to balance the craft. A jitney, built to hold four, would probably have eight or nine passengers piled on top of each other … . Those underneath probably gasping for a breath, or suffering a wet, snowy overcoat jammed in their faces.”
And there were more drawbacks to jitneys other than the lack of comfort. Like Uber today, the safety of passengers and drivers was an issue; many passengers and drivers ended up in court. Sometimes the passengers were found guilty of disorderly conduct while riding in a jitney. In other cases, the jitney drivers were found guilty of assaulting passengers. Drivers also faced less serious offences, like failing to stop for a police officer, or driving with a burned-out rear light. All in all, these cases raised questions about whether it was safe to travel in a jitney.
Many privately run street railway systems across Canada saw their ridership drop and revenues decline when jitneys arrived, as many people preferred the advantages of jitneys – lower costs and better schedules.
Jitneys proved to be especially popular in Toronto when transit strikes – in 1917, 1919 and 1920 – shut down the street railway system. When the strikes were on, jitney drivers flocked to Toronto from nearby communities, including Hamilton. In some cases, jitney drivers jacked up their prices from a nickel to 25 cents – based on the idea of supply and demand. These days, so-called “surge pricing” by Uber is controversial.
However, by the mid-1920s demand for jitneys began to decline for two main reasons: a changing economy and improved public transit. As the economy improved, it was easier for people to find work, so using their personal vehicle to provide rides to strangers was a less attractive way to earn money. And more jobs meant more people could afford their own vehicles.
As well, the Toronto Transportation Commission (later renamed the Toronto Transit Commission) was created in 1921, bringing together all of the various privately run systems. Service was improved and expanded, which attracted more riders.
The Ontario government announced that jitneys would no longer be allowed to operate after June 30, 1928. But some jitney drivers defied the law and kept picking up passengers. Some ended up in court and faced fines of up to $30. Appeals of the ban continued for months, but ultimately it was upheld in court. This was around the same time that demand for jitneys was dropping off, and they were no longer part of transportation in Ontario.
So in many ways, the current controversies over Uber – insurance, licensing, safety and the impact on the competition – aren’t really that new after all.
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