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Taxi union asks court to ban drivers from using Uber app in Ottawa
Feb. 18, 2016
Jon Willing

The union representing the city’s taxi drivers wants a judge to put the brakes on Uber drivers in Ottawa, prompting the multinational ride-ordering company to accuse cabbies of protectionism.

The union is seeking an injunction against drivers using the Uber application to pick up fee-paying passengers.

Amrik Singh, president of the taxi union, said he believes the public would prefer cabbies using legal channels in their fight against Uber rather than disruptive action witnessed in other cities and in Ottawa during the airport taxi dispute.

“I think public should be happy that we’re not blocking the road,” Singh said Thursday.

The city is reviewing its taxi bylaw to see how Uber could be folded into the regulatory system, but the taxi union says it can’t wait for politicians to take action. Uber drivers continue to cut into cabbies’ livelihoods, Singh said

“We have to look other ways to stop them,” he said.

Uber says Ottawa cabbies are trying to box out the competition.

“This request for an injunction by local taxi drivers is protectionist and aims at preserving outdated regulations to the detriment of Ottawa’s riders and drivers,” Uber spokesperson Susie Heath said in an email. “Ottawans deserve an alternative transportation option that is safe, reliable and affordable, and we believe that taxi and ride-sharing can complement each other to better serve the needs of our city.”

Heath pointed to Edmonton’s recent move to regulate Uber as an example of how the service can be integrated into a municipal licensing regime.

The taxi union’s lawyer, Sean McGee, said the injunction application isn’t against Uber the company, but rather the drivers using the Uber application. He said the taxi union can’t wait for City Hall’s bylaw review because the work could take months.

The Ottawa taxi union is using a similar tactic used by Calgary last year, when that city won a temporary court order stopping Uber drivers from operating.

In Ottawa’s case, it’s the taxi union, not the city, hauling Uber drivers to court.

“This is taxi drivers saying we want to live by the rule of law. We just want everybody to live by the rule of law,” McGee said.

The basis for the injunction application is the city’s own bylaw preventing people without taxi permits from driving passengers for a fee.

McGee said he expects the court to set a date for hearing the application on Friday.

While the city has charged dozens of Uber drivers and collected about $50,000 in fines, the taxi union hopes a court order will compel Uber drivers to stop picking up passengers. Breaking a court injunction is considered contempt of court and, in the extreme cases, could carry a jail penalty.

KPMG, the firm hired to review the taxi bylaw, has suggested the city should consider regulating non-traditional ride-ordering services. Council is expected to see staff recommendations in March.