Uber ride share launched in Ottawa on Wednesday but the city already has plans to shut it down, citing a lack of regulations to govern the unlicensed service. Enforcement is not expected to begin until Monday, when the free ride trial period ends.
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Uber is an American company that launched in 2009, connecting riders to drivers through a smartphone app. The company now operates in more than 200 cities in 45 different countries.
Uber's Jeff Weshler told CBC News that the company will find a way to make sure it has a "permanent home in Ottawa" but emphasized it is not like a traditional cab company.
"We're a technology company. We don't own any cars, we don't employ any drivers. This is something new and innovative and we're committed to working with the city collaboratively as we have in countless markets around the world and across the U.S. to make sure that riders have access to affordable, reliable and safe transportation options," Weshler said.
But the City of Ottawa's general manager of emergency and protective services compared an Uber ride to a "bandit cab" as long as its drivers are unlicensed.
"We have not received any applications from any drivers who want to drive for this particular company nor have we inspected any vehicles and so we know there's no licences out there," said Susan Jones. "From our perspective, we are cautioning the public to not be taking free rides unless they're ensured those safety regulations are in place."
Fines of up to $20,000
City of Ottawa regulations require that taxi drivers undergo criminal background checks, Jones said. Vehicles must also be inspected, which include a check to ensure there are cameras, she added.
Weshler said that every Uber driver must undergo an RCMP and local police background check, and said every ride is covered by insurance.
Jones said the city will target individual drivers, as well as the company as soon as Uber and its drivers begin accepting money. In addition to city bylaw charges, there are also plans to enlist the help of police, if necessary deploying undercover officers to track violations of the provincial Highway Traffic Act — which could result in fines of up to $20,000, she said.
Weshler vowed to "stand by our partners" as Uber establishes itself in Ottawa, but would not say whether that includes covering any fines drivers might incur. He said that the ride sharing model is a new one that might not fall under current laws but hopes to find a way to iron out the details.
"What we find is that cities that embrace Uber and embrace innovation have some really positive outcomes. What we see is reductions in rates of DUIs. It's common sense to say that if you have more choices available to you, it's easier for you to make that smart decision," Weshler said.
The City of Ottawa delivered its intention to crack down on Uber just hours after Ottawa Senator defenceman Cody Ceci publicly took the company's first ride in the city — a journey that was shared on the company's website.
Ceci told CBC News he was not aware of the controversy with the rideshare company.
"My agent just contacted me about it. I was doing a small photo shoot for them and I wasn't really aware at the time that they had an ongoing debate with city. So I think right now I'm just going to step back a bit and let them figure that out."