Former taxi union boss drives Uber in Hamilton, and he likes it

Your Uber is arriving, and it's longtime taxi union leader Ejaz Butt in the driver's seat.

Butt: 'Unless I get into it, I will not be able to give my comment or comparison between the two'

Butt says because the app takes care of booking and payment, it frees the driver up to focus on the road. (QUIQUE GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

He's an unlikely Uber driver. 

Veteran Hamilton cab driver Ejaz Butt mobilized and led a union of taxi workers, leadership experience he touted when he ran for mayor in 2014.

Now, the retired 64-year-old is driving for the Uber ride-hailing network, picking up a few shifts here and there. 

I wish it would have come 30 years ago.- Ejaz Butt

And in contrast to the vociferous opposition from the taxi industry to the app-based company, Butt says he likes it and likes what it does for drivers. 

"What I wanted to have for the driver when I was driving for the taxi company, I think you get all those things with Uber," he said.

He insists it's not illegal, which puts him at odds with the local industry and the city, which has been issuing fines to drivers, saying they're operating taxis outside of city bylaws.

'The driver drives the car stress-free'

Veteran Hamilton cab driver Ejaz Butt ran for mayor in 2014. Now retired, he's picked up driving for Uber. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Butt was retired and spending time enjoying his retirement when Uber first came on the scene in Hamilton. 

"I was living the retired life and enjoying the life, without driving any cab," he said. "But, doing nothing at home, I thought, let's see how the Uber system works."

"I just wanted to go through the process to see why they are getting so successful, why everyone is so against them," he said. "Unless I get into it, I will not be able to give my comment or comparison between the two."

He liked what he saw when he started driving about a month-and-a-half ago. He's picked up a weekend here, a Saturday there. 

The setup was attractive to him: ​The app took care of booking and payment, and the rider got where she or he was going for less money. The 15-minute Uber training was more instructive than hours of taxi school, he said, and taxi drivers are now often on the hook for hundreds of dollars in training fees. 

And the system doesn't seem to play favourites with its drivers, which is unlike Butt's experience with certain dispatchers.

"The driver drives the car stress-free, no stress at all, because he does not have any liability on his head, paying the lease, paying the dispatch fee, worrying about the customer not paying the fare, not worried about who you're picking up," he said. 

"The other thing is you are treated really good by the customer," he said. "This is one thing that I found – you are treated really well."

Butt says he thinks there's a big safety advantage to drivers using their own personal cars: They won't want to drive unsafely. He said he took out the extra commercial-driving insurance on his personal policy. 

'I think the technology has beaten the taxi business'

Butt was in the army in Pakistan, where he was born, and rose to the level of major. When he arrived in Canada in 1987, he tried to become either a police officer or join the Canadian military. Because was he not a Canadian citizen at the time, he couldn't get on with either. In 1989, he started driving a taxi.

From a worker perspective, Butt thinks the considerations he fought for for drivers are possible and maybe already even inherent in the Uber network. A full-time driver could make a reasonable salary, he said.

"The front man, the driver was not taking enough money home" when he became founding president of the Ontario Taxi Workers Union. "It was the middleman, the owner, the broker. Sometime I worked I could not even make a lease. I had to pay the gas from my own pocket." 

He said he knows there's going to be pain for people who invested in taxi plates and vehicles. His own sisters and brothers own more than a dozen plates, he said. While the industry goes through this turmoil, the value of those plates is harder and harder to get back.

But for a driver like Butt, it's a way to pick up a little bit of income on his own schedule. 

"I think the technology has beaten the taxi business," he said. "I wish it would have come 30 years ago. I do see the future of the taxicab is not very bright."

With files from Samantha Craggs


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?