One of the hottest topics in Ottawa has to be Uber – they have been operating there illegally and paying fines since it launched in Ottawa in October 2014. The cab drivers are enraged over Uber coming into their territory, claiming that Uber is taking away their livelihood. One taxi plate owner Tony Hajjar shouted to the city council, "Do you know what the hell you are doing?” he even called Uber a "criminal organization." However, Uber seems to always hit resistance at first, but eventually gets favorable votes to operate. The Ottawa city council meeting to vote on Uber was disrupted several times, but in a close vote, it was decided that Uber could legally operate in the city beginning October 1, although Uber will keep operating until that time. However, once that date hits, Uber must ensure that they meet the city’s requirements.
Two of the biggest points of discussion were insurance and camera requirements in Uber cars – they have been a requirement for cabs since 2008 as a public safety measure. The city staff had recommended that the new licensing category be exempt from requiring cameras in Uber vehicles. It was a lengthy debate, but in the end, voting went against cameras. Their reasoning does make sense as there is no money exchanged since you summon the Uber vehicle through an app – the driver ‘knows’ who you are and you even get to see the picture of your driver, and payment is made via the app. There is already a ‘relationship’ established, but some members really believe cameras are a good deterrent and they voted to reexamine the issue in one year to see how it is working.
In a close 13-11 vote, the council did decree that all vehicles for hire would be required to carry a minimum of $2 million in liability insurance – the same amount already established for cabs. This is down from the $5 million that was initially purposed by the city staff and what the Ottawa cab industry voluntarily raised their coverage too. It was argued that $2 million is the same amount being purposed in the City of Toronto and that it was a sufficient amount and would help both sides. Another restriction that matches the cab industry is that no vehicles can be used for rides that are over ten years old.
Diane Deans, who heads the committee that reviewed the bylaw changes, claims that Ottawa is "taking the handcuffs off the taxi industry" even though the taxi industry is fighting the changes. Deans said, "The taxi business will remain lucrative. Dire predictions of doom and gloom will not come to pass." Uber is a force that seems to be here to stay and one that embraces technology. People seem to like it and they even started uberASSIST in Ottawa last month, where you can request assistance to get in and out of the vehicle – great for riders with disabilities or older people. This program, also started in Toronto first and now Ottawa is embracing Uber whether the cab drivers like it or not – the riders are sure to benefit.