Taxi union fumes over Ottawa's Uber-friendly bylaw

More than a year after Uber cruised into Ottawa – ignoring bylaws and infuriating cab drivers – city staff are taking steps to make the ride-hailing app legal.

The proposed sweeping changes to the taxi bylaw are meant to level the playing field between private ride-hailing companies and the cab industry.

But the taxi union, already in a battle against Uber, is left fuming.

Amrik Singh, president of Unifor Local 1688, stormed out of the city’s technical briefing on the new bylaw on Thursday. He has been leading the charge against Uber through protests at City Hall and Parliament Hill.

While admitting he had yet to read the full 116-page report, Mr. Singh said he was unimpressed with his first glance.

‘There is nothing for taxi drivers,” he told reporters outside the briefing. “What did we do wrong to deserve this?”

Under the proposed regulations, all private transportation companies will have to pay licensing fees, insurance, provide police record checks and undergo biannual vehicle inspections.

The changes also come with a “buyer beware” warning: the city is staying out of any potential disputes between private company drivers and passengers.

Hanif Patni, president of taxi dispatcher Coventry Connections, said the new rules “obviously hurt us tremendously. We have worked so hard to raise taxi standards and make sure that they’re safe for customers.”

He said he expects council will hear the taxi industry’s side and “deal with this matter in due course.”

Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the community and protective services committee, said the proposed changes do a lot for the cab drivers, like eliminating the $1.50 credit and debit transaction fees and reducing taxi license costs by $74.

“I think it’s unfortunate that (Mr. Singh) commented before he had an opportunity to read the report, because there is a lot in there. We have really taken the handcuffs off the taxi industry,” she told Metro.

Since Uber launched in Ottawa in October 2014, city bylaw officers have laid 174 charges against 78 drivers. Uber has previously argued that it’s a ride-hailing app and therefore should not be subjected to the same licensing and brokerage rules as taxis.

In an emailed statement, Uber spokeswoman Susie Heath said the company was still reviewing the report, but applauded the mayor, Ms. Deans and city staff for “their recognition of the public demand for new technologies, and for working diligently to find accommodation through changes in regulations.”

The real debate starts at City Hall on April 7 when the report goes before the community and protective services committee. If there are enough delegates lined up to speak, the committee may overflow to April 8.

Council will vote on the report on April 13. If approved, the new rules would go into effect on June 30.

- with files from Emma Jackson

This article originally appeared on on March 31.