Uber set to become legal in Ottawa Friday

Uber and other private transportation companies could be able to legally operate within Ottawa on Friday, a change some taxi drivers say is both a curse and an opportunity.

Taxi drivers say new licensing system for Uber is both a curse and an opportunity for them

Some traditional taxi drivers say the licensing of Uber is both a curse and an opportunity.

Uber and other private transportation companies could be able to legally operate within Ottawa on Friday, a change some taxi drivers say is both a curse and an opportunity.

Last spring, the City of Ottawa passed new "vehicle-for-hire regulations" — the first jurisdiction in Ontario to do so — to bring ride-hailing services like Uber in line with the city's taxi bylaws. 

The new rules that come into effect Sept. 30 mean companies such as Uber must secure an operating licence, but if they do so, they can operate legally.

Uber Canada officials tell CBC the company intends to be fully compliant with the new bylaw by Friday. The app-based ride-hailing service has operated illegally in Ottawa since October 2014, disrupting the traditional taxi industry in the city.

Blue Line taxi driver Asim Puri is considering driving for Uber. (Julie Ireton, CBC )

Some drivers now face choice

Asim Puri, a former Nortel worker, turned to driving a Blueline cab about seven years ago when he was laid off in the technology sector. Puri rents his plate and doesn't own it, so he says moving to Uber is an option for him, but not for others.

"For a lot of the drivers it's very hard. They have a mortgage, they have to feed their families. Two or three guys I know already quit and they started driving Uber, because here they have to pay a lot of fees, lot of expenses," says Puri.

Puri says right now traditional drivers like him are surviving because "this is a government town" and many customers pay with taxi chits.

"But we don't know the future. What's going to happen after the 30th? Maybe [the] government is going to open up accounts with Uber?" said Puri.

Governments allowing staff to expense Uber rides

Some crown agencies and the federal government allow the use of alternative private transportation companies and the City of Ottawa will soon allow staff to expense Uber rides.

"Once Uber becomes a legal mode of transportation, city staff will be permitted to use it provided all requirements under the Local Transportation Policy are met," confirmed the city in a statement to CBC.

Diane Deans is chair of the City of Ottawa's community and protective services committee. (CBC)
City Coun. Diane Deans, the community and protective services committee, said companies can operate as long as they fulfil the proper licensing requirements.

"As of Friday they could legally operate, so they have to come in, make the application to the city, the city has to be satisfied they have met all the requirements for the private transportation company. Once the city is satisfied of that effective Friday, they'll be legally able to operate," Deans said.

Riders can find out if a ride-hailing driver is properly licensed by asking to see an electronically accessible ID card that must include the driver's name and photo, the make, model, colour and license plate number of their car and the contact information of the driver's parent company.

Taxi driver Solomon Tewelde says he doesn't plan on switching to Uber, saying he doesn't believe it is financially worth it. (Julie Ireton, CBC)
Westway driver Solomon Tewelde says he has several friends who have left the traditional taxi industry to go drive for Uber, but he plans to stick it out with his company.

"Some of my friends, they tell me, they don't make much money, they make very long days and some of them say, they make under minimum wage and they kill their car, mileage, maintenance," said Tewelde. "I don't think it's worth it, I don't think I'm going to work for Uber."