Uber officially hits Ottawa roads: 'there is a lot of demand for this'
The controversial Uber ride sharing has officially hit Ottawa roads. The company launched its UberX service at 10am Wednesday October 1, 2014.
Uber officials say Uber is not a cab company instead a technology company. UberX, the company’s so-called ride-sharing platform, is offering low-cost fares, up to 40-percent cheaper than the average Ottawa taxi ride.
Uber’s Lauren Altmin won’t comment on how many drivers the company will put on the road, “we’ve actually seen an incredible amount of interest already, exact numbers are proprietary, but what I can say is we expect demand to be high.”
Stephane Sylvester is one of Ottawa’s first Uber drivers. A federal public servant by day, he’s excited for his new job, “it’s another way to pay the bills. I get to drive on my own time,” Sylvester tells CTV while behind the wheel of his luxury electric car, “it feels great to be an alternative to a taxi.”
Dubbed a “ride-sharing revolution”, Altmin says Uber is looking forward to working with the city of Ottawa, “innovation is truly outpacing that of regulations and I look forward to working even further with progressive policy makers.”
City regulators and the taxi industry are certainly not rolling out the welcome mat just yet. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says there is no difference between Uber and a taxi, “I think they (Uber) can call it all they want, but at the end of the day most people would understand that you are calling a vehicle through technology to get a ride. That is a cab.”
Director of Ottawa By-law Susan Jones says with Uber charging for rides, it makes them illegal, because the company has not obtained a broker’s license, and drivers are not licensed through the city. She says they intend to target Uber and its drivers, “we have illegal taxis operating in the city from time to time, we will have undercover officers actually take rides and once we obtain that evidence we lay charges.”
Jones says those charges can range from city by-law infractions to an up to $20,000 charge under the Highway Traffic Act for “offering transportation service without the appropriate license.”
All legal Ottawa cabs must be licensed through the city, which includes being equipped with cameras and subject to regular inspections. Ottawa taxi drivers are trained through Algonquin College and hold a city issued taxi license. Uber requires its drivers to hold a valid Ontario driver’s license, RCMP and local police background check dating back to the age of 18, and vehicles no older than 10 years old.
But Uber officials maintain they are not a taxi company instead a ride-sharing platform, joining riders and drivers through a smartphone application, “There are no laws against ride sharing, this is something new,” says Uber’s General Manager of Regional Expansion Jeff Weshler, “On the user side there is a lot of demand for this, on the driver side especially we’re seeing a ton of interest. We’re looking forward to bringing this platform to Ottawa, and we’re looking forward to working with the progressive policy makers.”
As for Stephane Sylvester, the threat of steep fines is making him nervous. He is still assessing whether his new job is worth the risk, “I don’t want to do anything illegal, but if carpooling is allowed I have a hard time seeing why Uber is under such scrutiny”. Sylvester says when it comes to facing potential fines he’s counting on Uber to protect him, “they (Uber) tell me that they stand by their drivers but they haven’t given me any additional information on how or under what circumstances, so I’ll probably need some more information on that.”
Ottawa’s taxi union is also threatening to take on Uber with public protests.
Uber is currently offered in more than 200 cities world-wide.