Angry cabbies shouted and hollered at city councillors Friday after a committee reviewing proposed changes to Ottawa’s taxi regime made only minor tweaks to staff recommendations that pave the way for companies like Uber to operate here.
“You’re biased!” one driver yelled at the community and protective services committee.
The committee’s recommendation to have a separate licensing system for taxis and PTCs will now go to council Wednesday for a final vote.
The councillors rejected revisions that could have put the brakes on the controversial ride-ordering service’s legal arrival in this market. They refused to force Uber drivers to install the same security cameras that city taxis have and they declined to mandate a training course for Uber drivers.
The camera requirement had been one of the top requests made by the taxi industry leading up to the committee’s vote in favour of a new licensing regime legalizing Uber and other “private transportation companies.” Uber considers in-car cameras a major drawback to entering a market.
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli and West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry tried to convince colleagues to include in-car cameras as a condition of private transportation companies’ licences, even though city staff had already ruled out the condition.
Chiarelli cited council’s controversial decision in 2008 forcing taxis to have cameras. Now everyone, including cabbies, seems to love the cameras as a bonus security feature.
“If we don’t do it now we’ll have to end up doing it later and we’ll wonder why we put it off,” Chiarelli said.
The committee summoned to the meeting Ottawa police Insp. John Maxwell to explain the usefulness of taxi cameras.
“From a crime-solving perspective, they’re outstanding,” Maxwell said.
But Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the committee, urged councillors not to create barriers to private transportation companies entering a new regulated market.
Deans made the same case against El-Chantiry’s bid to put such drivers through taxi school. City staff recommend scrapping the training requirement for cabbies, but cabbies want to keep it on the condition Uber drivers would also need the course.
The committee voted to stick with the staff recommendation on stopping the standard training requirement. Accessible taxi training would still be mandatory for traditional cabbies.
The committee did make a number of minor tweaks to the proposed regulations.
If approved by council, the bylaw will be implemented Sept. 30, rather than June 30, to give private transportation companies and the taxi industry time to prepare.
The committee also voted to regularly collect information from private transportation companies on their drivers.
After the committee meeting, Coventry Connections president Hanif Patni said it was “disheartening” to see the majority of councillors voting against in-car cameras for PTCs.
“We are very upset by this type of decision-making,” Patni said.
Patni suggested Coventry could get into the alternative transportation business since taxi plate values are being “decimated.”
Taxi union president Amrik Singh said cabbies are considering their next step.
“We will not allow anybody to beat us and then tell us don’t cry,” Singh said.
Still, the process of vetting the proposed regulations went better than the city expected.
While there were some emotional pleas from cabbies, everyone attending the two-day committee meeting kept their cool.
Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish said each side needs to shoulder some burden in a new vehicle-for-hire bylaw.
“Nobody is going to leave here with a homerun,” Qaqish said.