People who regulate and have a stake in Ottawa's taxi industry are going over what they like and don't like about a city-commissioned policy paper recommending potential reforms.
On Wednesday, consulting firm KPMG released its latest report on the city's taxi industry and the effect ride-hailing companies such as Uber are having on it.
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It said letting Uber continue to run a significant service in the city without being regulated, which is the current model, should not be an option going forward.
Instead, it offered three approaches which could be combined in different ways:
- Reform the current taxi regime to incorporate Uber-like concepts of driver rating and allow competition and reduced fares.
- Establish a new "Transportation Network Company" licensing category for app-based service models, such as Uber, to operate in Ottawa.
- Get rid of the limit on the number of taxi licence plates.
On Thursday, Uber sent an email to people signed up to use its service in Ottawa, asking them to email their support for the second option to the city account that's been set up for public feedback.
The email, signed by "Uber Ottawa," called for "smart regulations" that don't include regulated fares, in-vehicle cameras, city-mandated training courses and "costly and time-consuming regulatory red tape."
Taxi driver: no new plates, but new app
One longtime Ottawa taxi driver said the city should not choose the third option to get rid of the limits on taxi license plates.
Haroun Dwaydar is an Airport taxi driver who's been driving in Ottawa for 33 years, although he's currently affected by the labour dispute between Airport taxi drivers and their dispatch company.
"To give everybody a plate would mean we'd have no business, we wouldn't have enough income for our family. We lose the business and we lose the [plate] value," he said Thursday.
"It's too much competition and not enough business. I go around the city — I don't have a taxi stand because I'm locked out — and I keep turning and turning and turning to find a place to stop to pick up customers. I work over 16 hours a day and I can't even break even."
Dwaydar said having an app for taxi drivers to use that offers some of Uber's features, such a real-time vehicle locations, would make things "much easier" for both drivers and customers.
2 provincial bills in play
Coun. Diane Deans, who chairs the city's Community and Protective Services Committee, said Thursday that either one of two private members bills from Ottawa South MPP John Fraser and Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP Tim Hudak would be valuable to the city's efforts to reform the industry.
Fraser's bill would increase penalties for drivers who pick people up for compensation without "a licence, permit or authorization," while Hudak's bill would regulate ride-sharing services across the province.
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Both bills have passed their second reading at Queen's Park and have been referred to a standing committee.
"We're partners in this and we really need the province to step up and give us the legislation and the enforcement tools that we need," she said.
"Regardless which way we go, we need additional enforcement tools to make all this work."
Deans said the city is the regulator for the taxi industry and has to keep consumer protection, public safety and accessibility in mind as it goes through its reform process, not the protection of taxi plate values.
"When you buy a house, if taxes rise and your house goes down in value you probably don't have a claim against the city for that, it's just the reality that when you purchase something the ebb and flow of the market may change the market value of it," she said.
"I have lots of sympathy for the people that have made their living in this business but it's like the video [industry], we used to all go to video stores and rent movies, we don't do that anymore. The world changes and values go up and down."
Deans said the city continues to consult with the public and taxi industry stakeholders as KPMG prepares its final report, which is expected before the end of the year.
Once they have that report she said they'll analyze it, issue a report to the Community and Protective Services Committee and bring their recommendation to city council, although the provincial legislation being considered is a bit of a wild card.