Tuesday, February 3, 2015 / 7 Comments

Uber VS Taxis - Who Gets Your Business?

The recent arrival of Uber – the ridesharing service that connects riders to drivers through their app – seems to have had a polarizing effect on the good people of Ottawa.  Some see Uber as a great way of getting from point A to point B more quickly and conveniently than cabbing. Others are, let’s say less-enthusiastic about their arrival, questioning the safety and reliability of an unlicensed car service already taking major heat from Ottawa bylaw. So where does this leave Ottawa riders?
Shaking things up
Uber announced their official arrival in Ottawa on the weekend with a promotional program offering free rides up to $20 value. The public was intrigued. Ushering in a new system of hailing a ride, Uber allows customers to use their app to arrange a ride without leaving their comfortable surroundings. For those of us who have gone on the great adventure of trying to hail a cab in the market - or on Rideau St - of a certain hour – on a Friday or Saturday – in the dead of winter will know how this is a major point in Uber’s favour.
Reserving a cab, especially close to last call in a high-traffic area like downtown Ottawa, is really not an option. The chances of you actually getting a cab before someone snags it first is unlikely to say the least. Stumbling over to the taxi stand is an option but you’ll have to expose yourself to the elements (and by elements I mean weather and people with impaired judgement) and jostle between drunk bros to get at the next available car. If you live in a low-traffic area, your odds could be even worse. Long wait times and no-show cabs are a common occurrence. Just ask Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird
Uber is also claiming a more cost-effective approach than Ottawa’s taxi service, comparing rates from the Rideau Centre to the airport at $22 with Uber against the much steeper $40 standard taxi ride. With rates up to 40% cheaper, they are offering some bottom-line competition by providing a more wallet-friendly option. On the flip side, Uber has been known to jack up their prices on high-demand nights like St Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve.
Breaking the law
Upon Uber’s first profitable transaction, the company was met with the steel fist of staunch opposition by city of Ottawa regulators. Of Uber’s three types of services – UberTaxi, UberBlack and UberX – only UberX is currently available in the city, and it’s the only one that the city claims to take issue with. Considered an unlicensed taxi service to Ottawa By-law, drivers are operating illegally and are subject to steep fines, including two $650 fines doled out in the first day of operation by undercover by-law officers (undoubtedly an exciting day on the job). While Uber is taking care of the fines on behalf of their drivers and claiming to support them 100%, the city has said they will continue to fine any drivers operating without proper taxi licensing, possibly even taking them to court. Uber’s other services, UberTAXI – fully licensed cabs operating with Uber’s app technology, and UberBLACK – professional chauffeurs with commercial licenses and specific vehicles, are not available in Ottawa.
Supporters of the city’s position cite the troubling lack of screening, training and licensing that Uber provides to their drivers, distancing themselves from responsibility by claiming to be a provider of technology rather than an unregulated taxi service. Uber has been criticized for “flooding the market” with drivers at the expense of proper licensing and public safety. They may have a point…
Fans of Uber (or at least people who are NOT fans of the city’s taxi services) have slammed the city, saying it’s perpetuating a monopoly and refuses to evolve.
Safety First
The issue of rider safety  seems to be the main sticking point in the minds of both  the supporters and critics of Uber. There is a plethora of material at their disposal to cite harmful interactions between both licensed taxi drivers and their fares, and Uber drivers and their customers. So should we be concerned about the lack of credentials Uber drivers need to meet to use the service? Let’s break it down.
Cab Driver Requirements
To legally drive a cab in Ottawa you need to pass a driver training program at Algonquin College, which requires an English language proficiency test as a prerequisite (as well as a valid driver’s license and over the age of 19). Drivers are also put through a criminal background check and must have an acceptable driving record.
Uber Driver Requirements
Do these requirements really weed out the unsafe drivers? Data particular to other cities that have both Uber and taxi services seem to lack any form of consensus. For Ottawa, it’s just too soon to tell.
One article in the Daily Beast summed up the real problem with Uber’s claims it operates a technology business.
“Uber is not a car company, but a technology company. They do not own vehicles, but software. Thus, they operate in a gray area where they claim they should not be subject to the same regulations as traditional private transportation services.”
Another article in Forbes features these somewhat troubling statements:
“When I got to one of the onboarding sessions at a local hotel, it was like, ‘Here’s your papers, go to the other room, get your phone, and great — get on the road and drive,’”
"No one from Uber looked at Coe’s car or had more than a passing conversation with him before he was set to give what the company calls “the world’s safest, most reliable ride“ ... That means a new driver could, in theory, submit paperwork online, pass a Social Security and driver’s license check, and be cleared to download the app and hit the road without Uber ever seeing or talking to the person."
Supply and demand
Uber swept into Ottawa knowing that they were meeting a demand for a service that was not being met. There is a limited number of licensed cabs available in the city and no other option for many that want to get where they’re going safely, quickly and comfortably. The bottom line is that the cab industry in Ottawa is archaic and static, keeping with the status quo at the expense of customer satisfaction and largely ignoring available new technology. An Angry Fan asks a great question.
Facing the new economy of crowd sourcing,Coventry Connections, owner of Blueline, DJs, Capital and Westway has signed on to TaxiHail, an app that offers similar benefits to Uber by allowing people to book and track cabs without going through a centralized dispatch. However, this system seems to be still unrolling, with not all cabbies up to date on the service. It would seem that some efforts are being made to bring Ottawa taxicabs into the 21st century - long wait times and poor customer service notwithstanding.
But the Ubers of this world are no shrinking violets, and it truly does appear that the monopoly Ottawa taxi service has enjoyed is coming to an end. And when it comes to this whole Uber VS Taxis thing I think I agree with M.A.
According to the Ottawa Citizen another app-based ridesharing service Hailo has its eyes on Ottawa as its next expansion.
Hailo claims they have had plans to expand into Ottawa for some time, dating back to before Uber made headlines with their planned arrival in the city. Hailo connects riders to fully licensed taxi drivers through a mobile app similar to Uber and TaxiHail. They say they will comply with Ottawa’s taxi rules to the tee, including city mandated fares. Justin Raymond, spokesperson for Hailo, told the Ottawa Citizen,
“There are a lot of markets in North America that require an overhaul of the service levels and Ottawa’s definitely one of them. . . . It’s a delicate situation in Ottawa and it takes time to do it legally and properly,”
So it seems whether you are for or against Uber’s brazen entrance onto the Ottawa transportation/technology scene, the shake-up has only just begun.


For anyone who has a choice of rides, as we do now in Pittsburgh after some years of being abused and ignored by the local government-protected taxicab monopoly, Uber is a substitute, not a complement.
John Buro
Uber15 Blogger

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