“Do you know,” Emile Chahine asks seriously, “that Ottawa is the only city in Canada that gives drivers a present when they pass their road test?” Without waiting too long for the answer, he laughs heartily: “They give them a pair of blinders! The kind of blinders race horses wear – so they think all they need to see is their steering wheel and their brake!”
Capital Taxi driver Chahine has been a licensed driver for 56 years and a professional Taxi driver for 25 years; in all that time, he has never lost a point off of his license.
“The drivers with the blinders on, you have to look out for them; you have to see them before they get near you,” he sighs. “You know, people talk about ‘Defensive driving,’ that’s just one kind of driving.
“You should also know about ‘Common Sense driving’ and ‘Courtesy driving…’ all kinds of driving.” While Chahine cannot say he has an accident-free record (“I got rear-ended once, but I was not at fault”) he is proud of the fact that he’s never lost a point.
It makes perfect sense, then, that he was the first Capital driver in line to get one of the 30 brand new Toyotas the Taxi brokerage took delivery of in March, 2023. The new vehicles (22 Corolla hybrids and 8 RAV4s) were ordered in September 2022, in the midst of the North American supply chain crisis. At that time, Taxi drivers whose vehicles were aging out were being warned by dealerships that they would need to order their new one as much as a year in advance.
“It’s beautiful, just fantastic!” Chahine enthuses. “A brand-new hybrid….although, it’s black, so in Ottawa that means you have to wash it every single day, to keep the salt and the dust off of it, to keep it shiny,” he laughs.
Chahine has had more than half of a century to get used to Ottawa winters; he arrived in 1971 from Lebanon to study mechanical engineering. Although he earned his degree, he found the work boring: he was more interested in the restaurants where he worked as a university student.
Over the years, he opened two restaurants and a kitchen company, where he found he was more suited to the work and the people. He retired from the hospitality companies in 1998, but he was unable to stay retired for long.
“It was boring!” he exclaims, as though still surprised at the idea. “Retirement was boring. I tried two or three times; I chickened out. I couldn’t just sit there and watch soap operas all day. Then my son-in-law suggested I might like to try driving Taxi, and I have been at it ever since.”
Emile married his high-school sweetheart Betty 52 years ago: “She’s still my sweetheart!” Together, they have two daughters and three grandchildren, all healthy and hard-working. To his own grandchildren and any young people, his advice is “Get educated. You won’t get anywhere without an education.”
In the past decade as a Taxi driver, he has survived first the entry of Uber into the market, and then COVID-19. He remains optimistic about the future of the industry and says many young people would be surprised to find they can earn a decent living if they commit to learning the trade and working six days per week.
“They have nothing to lose by trying it out, and they may really enjoy it,” he says, pointing to programs like Capital’s, through which a driver can rent the plate and the vehicle which is insured by the brokerage. “I encourage young people to give it a try to see if they like it out for three weeks or a month; try it out for If they don’t like it, they can leave and find another job. They’ve lost nothing.”
No matter what someone starting out in their career chooses to do, Chahine says, they have to be prepared to work hard.
“A full week used to be 40 or 44 hours; now it’s 54 or 58. Whatever you decide to do, you have to be ready to work hard if you want to succeed.”