Uber rival Lyft eyeing Ottawa

It's been one year since Uber became street legal in Ottawa; now ride-hailing rival Lyft could soon be rolling into town.

Arrival of ride-hailing companies has 'devastated' local taxi industry, cabbies say

U.S.-based Lyft, Uber's major rival in the app-based ride-for-hire business, is planning to expand to Ottawa soon, according to the city's bylaw manager. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

It's been one year since Uber became street legal in Ottawa; now a ride-hailing rival could be rolling into town.

Lyft, founded in 2012 and based in San Francisco, claims to be the fastest-growing on-demand transportation service in the United States. It recently announced plans to launch in Toronto, and Ottawa may not be far behind.

Bylaw manager Roger Chapman said city officials met with executives from Lyft to talk about licensing the company, and expects the company to submit a formal application soon.

CBC has reached out to Lyft for comment, but has not received a response.

Chapman said once the application is received, the company could have its distinctive pink-moustached cars on the road within a week.

Uber's entry 'devastating' for cab drivers

Until now, Uber has been the only major app-based ride-hailing service — the city calls them private transportation companies — licensed to operate in Ottawa. 

The company only became legal last year when councillors passed a bylaw allowing Uber and companies like it to pick up passengers using a phone app.

We're able to do exactly what Uber does, but we're prevented from doing it.- Marc Andre Way, Coventry Connections

Marc Andre Way, who heads taxi dispatcher Coventry Connections and co-owns Capital Taxi, said the city has failed to level the playing field for taxis since Uber's arrival. 

"Thirty per cent of our business is gone," Way said.

He said the city's taxi bylaw restricts traditional taxi companies from competing with the likes of Uber and Lyft, and said he's "completely disappointed" with the way the city has handled the taxi industry's complaints. 

"We're able to do exactly what Uber does, but we're prevented from doing it," he said.

For example, he said taxi drivers aren't allowed to use tablets as meters. Instead, taxi meters must be wired to the car.

Tony Hajjar has been a cab driver for 39 years. He said the year since Uber became legal has been devastating for taxi drivers. (CBC)

Tony Hajjar, a cab driver for the last 39 years, told the city's community and protective services committee the cost of operating a taxi has skyrocketed due in part to the city's bylaw.

He said many taxi drivers are defecting to Uber because it's cheaper. That's bad news for taxi plate owners who rent their cabs to other drivers.

"It's been actually very devastating to a lot of the drivers," Hajjar said.

6.4M Uber rides

According to the report, more than 6.4 million trips were taken in ride-hailing vehicles since the service became legal in the fall of 2016, with about a third of them originating in the downtown.

Chapman told the committee his staff have been busy auditing data and going undercover as passengers to make sure those new rules have been followed, but said compliance has been "very high." He said his department hasn't flagged any significant safety issues with Uber.

Hajjar pointed out there's really no way for the city to verify that because all of its information comes directly from Uber, not from its customers. That will also be the case for Lyft if the company decides to expand to Ottawa.

Chapman said his team plans to meet with members of the taxi industry to determine what impact Uber has had on the taxi industry so far, and whether any further bylaw changes are needed.