Ottawa taxi companies play up local ties before bylaw report

Ottawa taxi drivers and their dispatch company are contrasting their local ties with Uber's as they prepare for a city report that could change the way the two services compete.

Report on how to fit ride-hailing services like Uber into city bylaws coming March 31

Coventry Connections president and CEO Hanif Patni speaks at the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and Ottawa Business Journal's 'Eggs n' Icons' breakfast Thursday, March 24, 2016. (CBC)

Ottawa taxi drivers and their dispatch company are contrasting their local ties with Uber's as they prepare for a city report that could change the way the two services compete.

City staff will release a report suggesting whether or not to include ride-hailing services such as Uber in the city's taxi bylaw on March 31.

Ottawa taxi drivers and their dispatch company Coventry Connections have been raising safety concerns with Uber since it came to Ottawa in October 2014, saying it doesn't have nearly the same regulations and safeguards as they do and is illegal under the current bylaw.

Drivers under Unifor Local 1688 have also been saying Uber has taken away as much as 40 per cent of their business while their costs haven't changed.

Unifor Local 1688 president Amrik Singh said consumers have a choice between supporting 25,000 local taxi driver families or a large multinational company. (CBC)

Thursday morning, Coventry Connections president and CEO Hanif Patni said he wants Ottawans to think about their community when they consider whether to order a taxi or an Uber.

"(Uber is) sucking money out of our country without making a contribution," he said.

"The other thing is it's leaving a very dangerous system of transporting people without safety and it's exploiting people to say you can do some part-time work, which is terrible, because it's taking away work from legitimate full-time professional drivers."

Local politicians "have to choose between 2,500 families who live in Ottawa, pay taxes in Ottawa, send their children to school in Ottawa, versus the financial interests of a multinational, multibillion-dollar company," said Unifor Local 1688 president Amrik Singh.

"I think they should choose 2,500 families when they decide on their review and make the final decision," Singh said.

In an emailed statement, Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath said the company is "very much" a part of the communities in which it operates — and Ottawa is no exception.

"With local driver partners spending their earnings at home in Ottawa, ridesharing is directly fuelling Ottawa's economy as local residents provide safe, affordable and reliable transportation across the city, including in areas traditionally underserved by taxi," Heath wrote.

New app

The upcoming taxi bylaw report will be debated at a special meeting of the city's community and protective services committee April 7, with chair Diane Deans asking members to keep their schedules free all that day and the day after to deal with an anticipated high number of public delegations and questions.

Patni said he doesn't mind competing with Uber under a redesigned bylaw, as long as they're under the same regulations when it comes to taxes, fees and safety rules.

Patni was speaking the day Coventry Connections's partnership with European-based taxi app eCab launched in Ottawa.

The app allows users to order or preorder a taxi from its Blueline or Capital fleets, track where it is and pay with their credit card through the app, although they can still pay with cash, debit or credit in the taxi if they want.

"There's no question that Uber has educated the public on an alternative way of booking… (people) like the technology part, and we're saying you know what? We've got that technology," Patni said.

"I think this new app is much better than (Uber)… people were talking about the technology before but starting today our companies have better technology than Uber so there is no reason for people to call Uber anymore," Singh said.

"That's what the thinking is, that we'll be able to get some money back from Uber."

Airport taxi dispute ongoing

The new app will not be in Airport taxis, Patni said, because they're in the legal process of merging that fleet with Blueline and Capital taxis, the tail end of a labour dispute over fees at the Ottawa International Airport going back to August.

"There will be no Airport taxis anymore," Patni said.

"Those taxis, we hope, will be absorbed into Blueline and Capital in due course and we're talking very seriously with the unions on that. Of course there's a little bit of negotiating they have to do between the unions… those things take a little bit of time."

Singh said the two sides are still involved with the Ontario Labour Relations Board and declined further comment.