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Uber’s technology jammed enforcement officers’ efforts to enforce Taxi by-laws, court hears

Photo: Taxi News

Uber was effectively able to prevent Ottawa enforcement staff from identifying and charging them, the Ottawa Taxi trial heard yesterday.

City of Ottawa By-law enforcement staff testified on February 13th that Uber apparently had the technology required to identify the smart phone and/or credit card number of enforcement staff requesting rides through the app.

“That’s why we tried to always have two devices to use,” enforcement officer Chris Powers told the court.

“Often, after we had charged a driver for offering Taxi services without a license, the Uber app on our phone would stop working. We would request a ride which then never arrived, or we could not even use the app to request a ride.”

Powers noted that the failure to be able to use a phone more than once meant officers needed to have “burner” phones which could be discarded after one use, or at least two phones to alternate on a shift.

“At times we went out planning to spend a whole shift identifying Uber drivers, but we were stopped after just one call.”

As reported by Reuters, Uber developed a program called “Greyball,” which uses data from the Uber app and other methods to identify and circumvent officials who aimed to ticket or apprehend drivers in cities that opposed its operations.

Rides hailed from a location near a city enforcement agency suspected of launching a sting to trap Uber drivers could be ignored or canceled. The tool allowed Uber to show images of “ghost” Uber cars on the app or show that no cars were available, according to the newspaper, in order to deceive authorities.

Members of Ottawa’s taxi industry launched the $215 million class-action lawsuit in April 2016, alleging the city did not protect drivers and the industry  when ride-sharing services hit city streets. The suit also claims the city discriminated against minority taxi plate holders by failing to enforce its own bylaw and changing the bylaw to allow private transportation companies.

A key element of this trial is the allegation that the City of Ottawa “in failing to enforce its By-law and in changing the By-law, the City discriminated on the basis of race, colour, ancestry, ethnic or national origin, religion or creed, language, place of origin, or citizenship, contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code,” according to the class action.

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Metro Taxi Ltd., co-owner Marc Andre Way and Iskhak Mail.