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October 07, 2014

Rose Simpson: A cheap alternative to taxis? What an Uber idea!

Rose Simpson's column appears every Tuesday morning on the OttawaStart Blog. She also blogs at Rose's Cantina. You can read her previous columns here.

A few years back, when I was single, I was out on the town and waved down an Ottawa taxi.

Like a lot of people who use taxis, I'd had a few too many to drink so I was happy just to roll into a car and get home as soon as possible. It wasn't three in the morning or anything, it was maybe about eight o'clock, after I'd met some friends in the mid-afternoon at the press club.

The taxi driver was friendly enough, and I was perhaps oversharing. as I get when I've had a few. He seemed like a nice guy, and even flirted with me a little bit.

I got home, paid him and thanked him for the chat. I opened my door and was just about to go in when he appeared right behind me. He obviously had more things on his mind than retrieving a lost purse or scarf.

He became aggressive and actually tried to push through the door over my objections.

Fortunately, I lived with a very big black Lab at the time who was also at the door to meet me. I managed to get into my condo and close the door. Maggie was doing her job, and made sure he knew that there would be two dogs in this fight and her teeth were bigger than his balls.

He left, and I sat there shaking for a few minutes while Maggie continued to throw herself at the door, God bless 'er.

I didn't report this incident because I was frankly ashamed that I'd let it get that far. Besides, I'd flagged him down; I had no idea who he was or what cab he drove.

Lesson learned.

I made sure I never, again, flagged down a taxi in this city. Even now, I am very reticent to take cabs alone after a night on the town. I'd rather take my chances on the bus.

I was reminded of that incident this week after the City of Ottawa started, as the former mayor used to say, swinging its big dick around in an attempt to quash a start up taxi alternative. Uber, for those not aware, is a high tech company that allows people to call a driver from an application on their smart phones instead of through a dispatcher. The company operates in 40 different countries and offers a low cost (nearly half the cost) fee to customers who want a ride home.

Uber started just last week and two drivers have already been ticketed and face steep fines for driving without a taxi licence.

The city's argument is that taxis must be regulated for the safety of passengers. This means that a cab driver must go to school, pass a test and fork out $40,000 for a licence. Most cabbies can't afford that kind of scratch so they work for greedy people who keep their cars running all night and that -- not health and safety -- is why it now costs more to take a cab back and forth to the Canadian Tire Centre than it does for a medium priced hockey ticket.

Now I'm all for health and safety, but this is the service industry.

It's not the transportation of dangerous goods industry. To drive a cab, a person needs to be (or should be) knowledgeable about the city, courteous to passengers and understand the rules of the road. He should not be a rapist like the guy who drove me home that night who probably didn't have a criminal record.


All the regulation in the world isn't going to stop bad behavior and we don't need bylaw officers wagging their fingers at cab drivers. That's what the police are for, and they're already paid for in a separate budget.

What a driver needs is a clean driver's abstract, a clean criminal record, and a safe car.

What's ironic is that a school bus driver, making less than minimum wage, isn't set to the city's same high standards even though she has taken charge of the safety of our children. So why are taxis so stringently regulated and why must there be a monopoly on ferrying folks from A to B?

I'd like to suggest that the high costs of taxis are contributing to danger on our roads.

Our society doesn't want people to drink and drive and so the government runs all kinds of television ads all about Arriving Alive, Drive Sober. The ads suggest getting a designated driver, taking the bus or using a convenient app for a cab company.

But a lot of people, particularly young people, want to drink together, so it's hard to find that stellar young citizen who is willing to drink soda water all evening (nerd, alert!).

With no designated driver, kids often stagger out of bars still scraping the Jagermeister off their lips. Oh, geez, they think, they're too drunk to walk to the bus stop and don't have an extra fifty bucks in their pockets. But they might be able to scrape together twenty between them.

And there might be one kid still sober enough to be able to use an app on his phone.

A lot of people still drive drunk because cabs are too expensive. Don't tell me different or I'll have to out some of my old friends. People pour out of bars into their cars, of course they do.

But maybe, maybe if they had a reasonable, affordable alternative to that kind of bad behavior, they would leave the keys at the bar.

That alone is a reason to applaud Uber and invite it into the marketplace.

I'm not convinced the current taxis are any safer. The Uber drivers are screened and background checked. They use their own cars and pay the appropriate amount of insurance.

They are certainly better than the ghost cabs my kids used to take.

And I'd take my chances with Uber over a night time trip on OC Transpo any day.

Or the chance that I might be raped and left for dead on my stoop if not for a giant Black Lab with a healthy set of choppers.

A cheap alternative to taxis... what an Uber idea!

-- Rose Simpson

See also: Ottawa Taxi & Limo Guide
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