Recap of the Ottawa city council debate on legalizing Uber (Kate Porter, CBC News)

After a marathon 18-hour session of feedback and debate at the committee level, a plan to update Ottawa's taxi regulations and to licence ride-hailing companies lands at full city council Wednesday.

Like many cities, Ottawa has been grappling for months with how to deal with the arrival of app-based Uber, and to craft regulations for such ride-hailing companies, while taking into account the upstart's effect on the traditional taxi industry.

Now, a step ahead of Toronto, Ottawa city council is expected to approve regulations Wednesday that should take effect Sept. 30.

Many Ottawa city councillors agree change is needed, and people are demanding more choice in transportation.

While Uber may have started up early in Ottawa, choosing to operate without a licence, councillors said other ride-hailing companies are waiting in the wings and this proposed new regulatory category is for them too.

"It's important not to set this up as rules for Uber. It's rules for anyone who wants to enter that market," said Coun. Tobi Nussbaum.

Video camera issue may be debated again

Ahead of the meeting, several councillors said they intended to vote in favour of the regulations as a whole, but that some details might need further debate when full council meets.

Coun. Riley Brockington, for instance, said he voted at committee against the contentious issue of requiring vehicles-for-hire to install security cameras, as is required for taxis in Ottawa. It's something the taxi industry has been pushing. That motion failed in a 3-7 vote.

But Tuesday, Brockington said he was reconsidering his stance.

"At the end of the day, even though the Uber model is different and there are some added processes in place that reduce risk, I'm not comfortable having cars without cameras in them."

Deans expects the camera issue may resurface at council, but hoped to leave it at committee.

"I think it's a poison pill. It breaks Uber's business model," said Deans.

"It's veiled in safety, but I really think when we saw all those angry (taxi) drivers storm out of the chamber, it told the whole story that what that's really about is trying to keep Uber out of the market."

Taxi industry

On the eve of the vote, the taxi industry was busy having discussions at city hall, hoping to gain eleventh-hour support for their issues, a list that has been whittled down from nine demands to three. 

It wants vehicles-for-hire to have the video cameras installed, have their drivers undergo police record checks, and to have the companies defined as private taxi companies, not private transportation companies.

"The taxi industry in Ottawa will not exist if they approve this report," warned Amrik Singh, president of Unifor Local 1688. "We hope they make a decision that is good for the public of Ottawa, not for some private company that doesn't even pay taxes to Ottawa."

But Coun. Stephen Blais expected council to open the market to Uber.

The industry, technology and market demand will keep evolving, he said, and the key will be to update regulations more quickly to reflect those changes.

"I think what we have to do is not be complacent about it and that we don't lead ourselves to replicating in another way the problems we have in the taxi business that we have today," said Blais.

Source: CBC News