Taxi Regulation Report: Uber Late with no ETA

Kevin O'Donnell
2015-01-29 10:05

Among Ottawa businesses we love our food trucks, music festivals, restaurants and craft beer pubs, all of which are regulated by the city in one way or another. Then we have taxis, the most heavily regulated of them all, which we only love to hate. Why then has a report on how to reform the taxi industry been in progress since 2012 with no end in sight?

(See updated at the bottom of the page for comments received from Councillors Deans and Taylor)

In April 2012, City Council directed staff to report on "all possible options for restructuring taxi plate fees" via motion 32/4, moved by Councillor Taylor and seconded by Councillor Hubley. The report was originally due within six months. Three years later, the report is still in progress with an anticipated completion date of Q2-2015. How did six months turn into three years?

The delays began almost right away. 

Four months after the original direction, staff requested more time to study the issue. At the August 2012 meeting Council passed motion 39/7 (Taylor/Hubley) and set a new deadline of Q1-2013, doubling the deadline, give or take.

That's fair. Council requested a report on "all possible options" so a year is a reasonable amount of time to take to get a thorough report. The original six month deadline was probably unrealistic.

To keep track of the reports staff have been told to produce, a regular item of business on council and committee agendas is the "Inquiries and Motions" report. By checking those reports between April 2012 to January 2015 we can follow the taxi report's progress.

At the October and December 2012 meetings of council, staff reported that the taxi report would be delivered in Q1-2013, on-time, as instructed.

However, Q1-2013 came and went with no report. By the book, the report is now late. Enter another Taylor/Hubley motion 54/12 in April 2013:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the response by staff on various Taxi-related motions of April 2012 be further deferred; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Manager of Emergency and Protective Services be directed to strike an internal working group among By-law and Regulatory Services, Transit Services, City Clerk and Solicitor Department and other affected areas of the City to further review the April 11, 2012 taxi-related inquiries and the evolving areas noted above, and to conduct further consultation with stakeholders within the Taxi industry, the accessible community, the Accessibility Advisory Committee, and the public on these issues, and to report back when completed with information and recommendations, if any, on these issues. 

Have you spotted the problem? When does "further deferred" end? In effect, staff have been relieved of any line in the sand. The report is now due whenever. Council may as well have said, "this report is due sometime before the heat death of the universe".

What happens now in the regular Inquiries and Motions reports?

In October 2013, then February, April, and June 2014, Council was told the deferred report would be delivered in "2014".

In August 2014 (the heat of election season) the delivery date bumps to Q1-2015. Uber, coincidentally, entered the scene during the election. Was this subsequent delay caused by Uber's appearance in Ottawa? Or is staff ragging the puck on this report, and August just seemed like a good time to change the date?

We're into Q1-2015 now.

For the upcoming January 2015 meeting of council, the delivery date has been bumped again to Q2-2015.

Will this report ever be completed? Will the next Inquiries and Motions update bump the report to Q3-2015? Anyone want to take a bet?

Uber's appearance in Ottawa has generated intense interest in taxi regulation reforms. Considering staff have been researching the report for three years surely there are no more excuses for more delays.

If staff have a good reason for needing more time, that's fair. But Council should at least reinstate a deadline. The taxi report should be finished or the reasons for more delays should be known.

All it would take is:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the response by staff on various Taxi-related motions of April 2012 and April 2013 be reported to Council by Q2-2015.

The latest Inquiries and Motions report already says that's what is going to happen anyway. Surely there is no harm in putting a line back in the sand.

One feature Uber has going for it is GPS tracking — you know when your taxi will arrive. This taxi report is being handled like the Ottawa taxis we love to hate — we've called for it, but who knows when it'll get here, if at all.

UPDATE Jan 26 8:45am: Councillors Taylor and Deans (as past and current chairs of the Community and Protective Services committee) have been asked via email for comment on these questions:

  • Given the history of shifting delivery dates, do you expect the date to shift again? 
  • Would you support re-instating a hard deadline?

UPDATE Jan 27 11:45am: Councillor Deans provided the following comment:

Having just taken over this portfolio, I need a little bit of time to scope out all of the taxi related issues and ensure that we have undertaken a comprehensive review of our taxi bylaw and regulations. In addition, since the time of the motion new issues have emerged with respect to taxis such as proposed legislation at Queen’s Park and ongoing litigation. At this time, I am not prepared to commit to a firm deadline.

Councillor Deans is refering to Bill 55, the Bandit Taxi Cab Safety and Enforcement Act, by local MPP Lisa McLeod. It received first reading on December 4, 2014. The litigation refers to by-law charges to unlicensed Uber drivers that is current proceeding, though the city released a statement today that both defence and prosecutor have agreed to an adjournment pending negotiations on February 5th. The following statement was issued to media this morning:

For all court matters related to unlicensed drivers scheduled for the week of Jan 26 – including the Wednesday Jan 28, both the defence and the prosecutor will seek a adjournment  for the matter to be spoken to (not a trail) on February 5 at 1:30 pm at 100 Constellation.

OttWatch will monitor the Inquiries and Motions reports for any future changes to the delivery date.

UPDATE Jan 29: Councillor Taylor provided the following comment (edited just slightly for punctuation):

Taxi and people moving industries, and the bylaws that regulate them, are complicated. The rapidly changing marketplace driven by technology is an additional factor. More important to me than getting the comprehensive staff review right now is that we get it done right. In my view this includes not just industry review but also citizen feedback and involvement. I hope to see that citizen involvement in a review in 2015 — that looks at not just taxis but other vehicle services as well. 

I would support this work [being] conducted in 2015 — but as to when — I would defer to the Chair of Community and Protective Services portfolio my colleague Councillor Diane Deans. 

 

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