Ottawa

'We are stressed': Ottawa cabbies say frustration over Uber is building

Two long-time Ottawa taxi drivers condemned the behaviour of a former colleague caught on video making a racial slur during an expletive-filled rant, but said they feel a lack of work has many drivers feeling stress.

'We live in it, we feel it, we hear it every day,' say Ottawa cab drivers of racism

An Ottawa taxi driver has been suspended after he refused to move for an ambulance outside the Rideau Centre, according to Hanif Patni, president and CEO of Coventry Connections. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Two long-time Ottawa taxi drivers condemned the behaviour of a former colleague caught on video making a racial slur during an expletive-filled rant, but said they feel a lack of work has many drivers feeling stress.

Elias Karam, who has been driving cabs in Ottawa for 24 years since coming to Canada from Lebanon, said taxi drivers are used to the sting of racial remarks directed at them. So he was surprised when the slur was seen coming from another driver.

"To us as cab drivers, any racial remark directed at anyone, under any circumstances is unacceptable," said Karam.

"We disagree with his comments and remarks and hopefully it is an isolated incident," he said.

Driver has license suspended

In the video uploaded to YouTube, a security guard and several other taxi drivers can be seen talking to a driver in an attempt to get him to move from his spot in anticipation of an ambulance that was coming to the Rideau Centre to assist a woman inside the building.

The Capital taxi driver went off in a rant and directed a racial slur at a security guard, who is black, as other drivers attempted to calm him down.

On Thursday the CEO of Coventry Connections said the driver had his taxi license suspended after he did not co-operate with an internal investigation.

Getachew Ayele, who immigrated to Canada from Ethiopia, says he has been subjected to similar abuse and racial remarks in his time operating a convenience store and in his decade as a taxi driver and said many drivers have had the same experience.

"We live in it, we feel it, we hear it every day," said Ayele.

Drivers blame Uber for loss of work

But both men say many drivers are feeling stress because of a lack of work, and they blame the lack of work on the growing popularity of Uber, the smartphone app that connects drivers to passengers.

"You get one fare from your twelve-hour shift...[and] small things can ignite you to do what our colleague driver has done. I'm not accepting what he has done but there is always something to push people to say something they don't want to say," said Ayele.

'I'm not accepting what he has done but there is always something to push people to say something they don't want to say.- Ottawa taxi driver Getachew Ayele

​Karam said many taxi drivers are having trouble making enough to support their families.

"I've been in Ottawa for 28 years, doing this job for 24 years, and this past couple of months that was the first time I had no choice but to use my line of credit to cover my expenses. It's that bad," he said.

"We are stressed," said Karam. "And everybody expresses frustration in a different way."

Karam believes the situation for cab drivers won't improve unless the city steps up enforcement of its bylaws.

The city has declared Uber an unlicensed service and has charged dozens of drivers since October, when Uber launched its service.

This morning, the view from behind the wheel. Cabbie frustrations, from two long-time drivers. 15:21

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