This week at council, the City of Ottawa passed a motion which will change the way that taxis and vehicles for hire are able to function.
Presently, and until the motion takes effect September 30th, app-based Private Transportation Companies (PTCs) such as Uber have not been legally able to operate in the City.
The motion is based on a series of recommendations by City staff that were debated on last week at the Community and Protective Services Committee meeting of which I am a voting member. Staff’s recommendations are supported by a report on Ottawa City Taxis, conducted by consultant firm KPMG.
The findings from the KPMG report, City of Ottawa: Taxi and Limousine Regulation and Service Review, highlighted three areas of focus that City staff elected to place at the center of their recommendations: public safety, accessibility, and consumer protection.
In terms of public safety, we at Council agreed that neither taxi or PTC vehicles can be any more than 10 years old, both taxi and PTC are required to withhold a minimum of $2M in insurance, as well as adhere to policies that require annual vehicle inspections and police record checks. I believe these safety requirements will protect residents, and allow them to feel safe in either a taxi or a PTC vehicle.
When addressing the notion of consumer protection, we agreed to allow the decrease in taxi fares so long as the trip was booked through an app. I support giving taxis the opportunity to lower their fares as it will create a more-even playing field between taxis and PTCs, and foster healthy competition in the market. In an effort to protect both passenger and driver, we voted to study the safety features of PTCs over a one year time period; in Spring 2017 we plan to reconvene and, based on our findings, will vote as to whether cameras should or should not be a requirement in PTCs.
As Council representative on the City’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), ensuring that the City of Ottawa maintains vehicles for hire that are accessible to those who might need them is my top concern: we cannot legalize PTCs without the assurance that they will, in some way, support accessible vehicles for hire. Therefore, I was successful in having a motion passed at Council which states:
1) That the General Manager, Emergency and Protective Services be delegated the authority to form a Steering Committee for these consultations that will include the Chair of the AAC, an additional member of the AAC, and myself, as their Council liaison; and
2) That, should the Steering Committee or the consultations identify that other provincial regulations might need to be amended to help make Private Transportation Companies more accessible, including the need for amendments to Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, that the AAC’s workplan be amended to include consideration of these matters, as related to the Vehicle-for-Hire By-law.
In other words, my motion promises to create a steering committee aimed at ensuring PTCs meet their obligation to accessible vehicles for hire. In addition to my motion, we also voted to (i) waive the fee on any new accessible taxi license plates going forward, (ii) waive the $1.50 credit and debit fee in taxis, and (iii) reduce the taxi license fee by 40% from $170 to $96.
Mayor Jim Watson, in his capacity as the statutory CEO of the City of Ottawa, will work with Toronto’s mayor John Tory to identify legislative amendments that both cities are requesting and/or supporting, and that, as appropriate, they will work together to lobby the provincial government for the requested changes.
As your Councillor, I aspire toward an accessible safe transportation system that fosters innovation, and I have confidence that these recent by-law amendments will achieve that. While different policies will be guiding both taxis and PTCs, I do believe that both transportation services cater to the unique needs of Ottawa residents and that they can operate harmoniously alongside one another.
Should you have any questions about the Taxi By-Law amendments passed this week at Council, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.