Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
Responsive image

Supporting choice in for-hire vehicles: the taxi debate

You are here

This morning, I voted in favour of the committee recommendations this morning to allow new Private Transportation Companies (PTCs) to operate beginning this fall.

The new rules will impose important restrictions on how companies such as Uber operate in the interest of safety, and preserve several important markets for plated cabs. After much thought, and recognizing the disruption this will have in the existing taxi sector, I'm comfortable supporting these new rules. I believe strongly that there will be a broader public interest served with the new regime, and that everything possible has been done to mitigate the negative consequences.

The exclusivities Council has preserved for plated cabs, and what will ultimately be a slow market shift, mean there will be a recognizable plated taxi sector for years. We're cutting the fees and requirements on plated cabs to a significant degree while preserving several of their competitive advantages. And, I hope the competition means we will see the excessive rent-seeking by plate owners reined in. My eyes are open on this issue, and I do recognize that the plated cab sector will likely shrink. But there will also be new economic activity generated that will be in the public interest. Bars, restaurants and stores in Kitchissippi have told me - anecdotally - that the've seen new business as Uber facilitates and encourages more trips to be taken further afield from our tourist districts. That's economic growth that benefits our neighbourhood and the people who live in it.

I also recognize that these are not ideal circumstances under which to make these kinds of policy changes. With an aggressive entrant already operating illegally, I fully understand the public perception in some quarters that we've given in. But, those are the circumstances we have, and we need to make the best of those. Like Uber or not, this was a direction in which we were going to have to head sooner rather than later. At least we will begin collecting fees to offset regulatory costs and moving toward the creation of an accessibility fund in the near-term.

I don't share the perception that the City has failed to at least try to enforce the existing taxi by-law. By-law staff have burned through countless credit cards to sting the company and levied hundreds of fines. Those credit cards become useless after a charge since the company blocks them, but the by-law staff persist. And they will continue to do so until the new rules are implemented.

This isn't the only sector, obviously, that's faced a new disintermediation thrust as a result of the Internet, including in regulated sectors. I worked on the Netflix file for several years when I was at the CRTC, and feel in many ways as if I'm retreading those steps. In the heat of the moment of this particular vote, it might appear as though the sky is falling, but I'm comfortable that the actual shift will be slow. There will still be a very sizable market of residents who want to call for a ride, use a taxi stand, or hail a cab on the street. Para Transpo will continue to be the exclusive preserve of plated cabs. Many residents trust the taxis' brands, and are most comfortable getting into a marked car with a camera. 

There are multiple uncertainties in this entire debate - no guarantees. I don't sit on the committee that assessed the staff recommendations, but I participated fully for those 18 hours of meetings over two days. I wanted to look the drivers in the eye and listen to them, as well as all the others who spoke to the question. I've had countless discussions with all sides over the past several months and read everything people are sending me. With the question now put today, I'm confident in my vote. It wasn't an easy one.

With this vote behind us, it's a good moment to take a look up from our strictly municipal concerns at some of the larger questions this debate has raised. It has been noted many times, and I feel keenly, that driving a cab is one of the few ways in which newcomers to Canada can begin to work. I've had multiple drivers tell me about the sacrifices of long hours they've made to send their kids to university on the living made behind the wheel. I don't believe that immigrant story is just a cliche.

Some of that possibility will be lost under the new regime. Fewer drivers will be able to follow that path. It's all of our responsibility to address why there are so few opportunities. When the dust settles after today, let's make sure we don't lose sight of such considerations as the recognition of foreign professional credentials, access to affordable housing, training and education, child care, food, and the supports we provide people suddenly facing unemployment. Not just taxis, but sectors across the country are facing disruption and uncertainty as economies continue to be transformed. The implications of those transformations are both positive and negative. I don't want to lose sight of how this debate we've just had fits into that global picture.

Posted April 13, 2016