Ottawa

Dozens of complaints over Coventry Connections call centre in Philippines

The new call centre in the Philippines has provoked complaints as clients struggle to book taxi trips with dispatchers working half a world away, according to the head of Ottawa's taxi union.

'They hired a call taker centre that doesn't even know where people are.'

Tow truck operator Ted Lister said he received 'shoddy' service from the Coventry Connections call centre in the Philippines. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

The new Coventry Connections call centre in the Philippines has provoked dozens of complaints in the past month, as clients struggle to book taxi trips with dispatchers working half a world away, according to the head of the Ottawa taxi union.

For tow truck operator Ted Lister, it's more than an inconvenience: it's a matter of safety.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, Lister tried to call a Westway cab for a woman stranded in rural Ottawa with two flat tires.

After giving his location on Fernbank Road and Robert Grant Avenue to a confused dispatcher in the Philippines, he was baffled by the response.

"It more or less ended with them saying, 'Okay, just when a cab goes by, stand out in the intersection and flag one down.' I told them that we're in the middle of nowhere," he said.

"They hired a call taker centre that doesn't even know where people are."

They're not looking after the safety of the people — they just want to save a dollar.- Tow truck operator Ted Lister

Lister said he was told a cab would be there in five to 10 minutes, but after waiting for 30 minutes, he ended up driving the woman home before bringing her car to the garage.

"The whole service process of it was just shoddy, in my opinion," he said. "They're not looking after the safety of the people — they just want to save a dollar."

Union 'gathering all the complaints'

Ottawa taxi union head Pierre Nakhle told CBC News he filed grievances after Coventry Connections announced at the end of June that it was laying off 60 workers at its Ottawa call centre and switching to a Philippines call centre for over-the-phone taxi booking.

"We have already expressed our concerns to the company — since the day they moved to the Philippines. And we're gathering all the complaints from the customers and the drivers," he said.

"A call taker cannot locate the location they're asking for a taxi, or they cannot locate or understand what's [meant by], for example, CHEO," he said, adding that a local dispatcher would know the acronym stands for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

The dispatcher receives calls for Blueline, Westway and Capital taxis. The City of Ottawa does not regulate the location of taxi dispatch offices.

We have already expressed our concerns to the company — since the day they moved to the Philippines.- Pierre  Nakhle , Ottawa taxi union

Coventry Connections owner Hanif Patni previously blamed the cost-saving move on the loss of revenue caused by the emergence of the ride-hailing service Uber. 

Coventry Connections did not return CBC Ottawa's calls on Friday.

Ottawa city council voted in April to legalize services like Uber under a new licensing category that will come into effect in the fall.​ 

Nakhle said he is hoping for a meeting with Coventry, one could lead to arbitration and, ultimately, a solution.

"We care about the customer service," he said.