No cameras required aboard Uber vehicles, city says

A year after Uber began operating legally in Ottawa, city regulators see no reason to make ride-hailing companies install video cameras in their vehicles, unlike traditional taxi cabs.

1 year since ride-hailing company began operating legally in Ottawa

A year after Uber was legalized in Ottawa, city staff say there's no reason to make the company install cameras in its drivers' cars. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

A year after Uber began operating legally in Ottawa, city regulators see no reason to make ride-hailing companies install video cameras in their vehicles, unlike traditional taxi cabs.

"There is no evidence to support the need for in-vehicle cameras" in cars driven by contractors working for Uber and other ride-hailing services, according to a staff report destined for next week's community and protective services committee meeting.

The issue of whether to make cameras mandatory for Uber vehicles was a hot topic during the contentious 2016 debate to legalize companies like Uber. Licensed taxi drivers, who've been required to have cameras in their cars for years, complained they were at a disadvantage because there was no such requirement for their Uber competitors.
The council chamber at Ottawa City Hall was packed last year when council voted in favour of legalizing Uber. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

During last year's discussion, a number of elected officials, including councillors Rick Chiarelli, Keith Egli, Stephen Blais, Michael Qaqish and Eli El-Chantiry, argued passionately in favour of cameras for Uber, citing customer safety. But in the end, only El-Chantiry went on to vote against legalizing Uber.

El-Chantiry said it's no surprise the company is now getting a pass on in-car cameras.

"Of course they're treated differently. They're treated just like a big-bully corporation with lots of money," he said. "That's how they make their way through some of the major cities in Canada [and] in the world. That's their style."

But the city's one-year review of Uber and its much smaller, electric vehicle competitor, Teslift, found few compliance issues with the companies' operations.

Staff conducted more than 2,000 audits and found compliance with the rules was "very high." As well, Uber has been providing the city with data on drivers on a daily basis, including proof of insurance, a valid driver's licence and vulnerable sector police records checks.

Safety built into Uber model, report finds

Because Uber customers can only hire a car through the company's app, as opposed to hailing a vehicle on the street, and no cash is exchanged, city staff deemed the interactions safer than the "more highly regulated taxi industry where safeguards, such as in-vehicle cameras, are required for the safety of both the passenger and the taxi driver," according to the report.

Because Uber customers can only hire a car through an app, as opposed to hailing a vehicle on the street, and no cash is exchanged, the interaction is deemed safer by city. (CBC)

And with Uber interactions, "both the passenger and the … driver are known to one another, and either can be traced following the trip if necessary," states the report. "This, and all of the other requirements, establish safety standards and negate the need for an in-vehicle camera."

While there have been no official complaints to the city about Uber itself, staff pointed out the city does not deal with complaints about Uber drivers because the city does not regulate individuals, only the company. That's not the case for the taxi industry, where the city oversees both the cab companies and its drivers.

Pushback from taxi industry

Sid Gebara has been driving an Ottawa cab for eight years, and like all licensed taxi drivers, he's required to have a video camera installed in his car.

He said he's disgusted Uber drivers don't have to do the same.

"Then we shouldn't it need it either. If it's a fair playing field, it should be fair for everybody — not just for some and some not," Gebara said. "That's ridiculous. The city's not fair at all."

Ottawa taxi driver Sid Gebara said it's unfair that Uber drivers aren't required to have video cameras installed in their cars. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Hanif Patni owns Coventry Connections, the taxi dispatch company that runs Blue Line, Capital Taxi and West-Way Taxi.

He said his business has suffered ever since Uber started offering rides in Ottawa.

"It's been very punitive for our company and our drivers, but we cannot change our standards, which have to protect the public," Patni said.

"It's something that I've had to live with and all the drivers that work in this industry have had to live with."

6.4M trips, mostly in core

More than 6.4 million trips were taken in ride-for-hire vehicles since the service became legal in the fall of 2016, with about a third of them originating in the downtown — specifically, Rideau-Vanier, Somerset and Capital wards. An overwhelming majority of rides — 88 per cent — started inside the Greenbelt.

In August, Uber voluntarily agreed to pay a seven-cent accessibility surcharge per ride, which amounted to $450,000 in the company's first year of operation. But the city won't have a plan for how to use the money until next spring.

Accessibility advocates are not in favour of the surcharge system, demanding instead that Uber and other companies like it provide ​accessible rides at the same rates and with the same wait times as its regular service. 

With files from Marc-André Cossette