Goober for hire

by Edo van Belkom

Mark dropped off his load in Scarborough and was trying to hurry up to a truck yard in northeast Brampton before the GTA’s rush hour traffic made the trip take three times as long as it should. But while the trip – in the middle of a weekday – shouldn’t have taken more than 45 minutes, one hour tops, he was sitting in downtown Toronto traffic behind a line of cars that had not moved in more than half an hour.

At first Mark thought it was just normal downtown traffic. Then he thought there might be construction going on that would account for the delay. After that, the possibility of a major accident crossed his mind, the kind where someone loses their life and the police close down everything for hours while they conduct their investigation.

But none of that seemed to be going on.

In fact, nothing had moved for a long, long time…so long, in fact, that most people had shut their vehicles down and were standing in the roadway trying to see what was going on up ahead.

Mark decided to shut down Mother Load as well, seeing as all he’d been doing up till now was wasting time and burning diesel. When he got out of his truck, he caught the eye of the man who’d been driving the car in front of him.

“Do you know what’s going on?” Mark asked.

The man shrugged. “Just a long line of cars from what I can see.”

Mark nodded. Then he saw a woman on the sidewalk coming up the street. Surely she must know what the problem was. “Excuse me,” Mark said. “What’s going on down there?”

“The taxi drivers,” she said. “They’re protesting Goober.”

“Protesting what?”

“Goober. You know, the app-based ridesharing service.”

“Oh, okay. I’ve heard of that,” Mark said, having read about the company that claimed to connect people who wanted a ride somewhere with people who had the ability to give those people a ride.

“I wish I had heard of it,” the woman sneered. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have had to walk all this way.”

Mark was tempted to offer the woman a ride, but if he ever got out of this jam, he was headed in the other direction. “Sorry, I’d like to help you, but I’m going the wrong way.”

She smiled and looked at the long line of cars in front of Mother Load. “Buddy, you’re not going anywhere.”

Mark looked down the road and figured she was right. He climbed back up into his cab and switched on the radio hoping to relax.

Then, just as he closed his eyes, there was a knock on his door.

Mark looked out the window to see a South Asian man offering him up a piece of paper. “Read it!” the man said.

Mark was curious. Obviously, this man was one of the protesting taxi drivers and he was handing out the document that outlined what their beef was. Mark rolled down his window and took the flyer.

In a nutshell, Goober claimed to be nothing more than a technological middle-man offering a much needed service. The cab drivers however, considered Goober to be something much more sinister, an unlicensed and unregulated taxi service that connected riders with amateur drivers who were looking to make a fast buck.

Mark certainly felt for the cab drivers. After all, here was a service that was basically trying to undercut their businesses, offering the same service but without having to deal with all the regulations and licences that cost business owners money and assured some level of safety for the user. In addition to those concerns there were big questions about insurance and the ultimate fate of the taxi industry.

People’s livelihoods were at stake.

But while Mark understood the cabbie’s concerns, he also wondered if services like Goober weren’t the wave of the future. The Internet and all of its related technologies had changed everything about the way we lived our lives.

So why not the taxi industry?

And, why not the trucking industry?

As the thought struck him, Mark glanced over to the empty seat to his right. He wasn’t moving right now so there wasn’t a lot of value to that seat. But, what was the value of that seat when he travelled from Toronto to Miami, or Montreal to Ottawa?

And so, with more than enough time on his hands, Mark took out his phone and went to a popular bus company’s Web site and inquired to see what the cost of a bus ticket from Toronto to say, Vancouver. A few flicks of the thumb later and he had the answer.

The cost of the trip ranged somewhere between $370 and $550, which at first glance didn’t seem like very much, but that was the cost of just a single, one-way trip. Mark was making trips like that every week and if he could earn an extra $400 a week just by offering the otherwise empty seat to someone looking for a ride he could easily earn something in the neighbourhood of an extra $20,000 a year. Mark let the amount swirl around inside his brain. Twenty grand.

It would buy a lot of fuel. Pay for a lot of insurance. Look really good in his bank account.

   It seemed a little too good to be true…so what about the downside?

For one, Mark would not want to have anyone sleeping in his truck overnight. Sure, he could charge them more money if they did, but he really didn’t want to get that cozy with his clientele. He was comfortable providing rides, but that was it. There was also the possibility of passengers wanting to stop somewhere to eat or use the bathroom and that could start to affect his schedule. If he started showing up late for a pick-up or delivery, he’d quickly get a reputation that would hurt his chances of getting the best loads.

But being late in the trucking industry happened all the time for all kinds of reasons. Taxi driver protests, for example.

A quick check of his watch told Mark that he’d been waiting in this traffic jam for well over an hour. What was the cost of that to his business? While he sympathized with the cabbies, they were costing him money at the moment and that didn’t seem like a good way to make your point.

And so, in a fit of irritated anger, Mark took out his phone again and visited the Goober Web site. There was no way he would take a passenger from Toronto to Vancouver on his upcoming trip, but maybe he could find people looking for shorter trips, like Toronto to Timmins, Timmins to Winnipeg, and so on and so on all the way across the country.

It was worth a try. A way to make a bit of extra money, maybe have some fun along the way. He clicked on the icon that said, “Sign Up Now!”

After all, what could go wrong?

Mark Dalton returns next month in Goober for hire Part 2.

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