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By: Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald

Crying “unfair competition,” the city’s top taxi companies are suing a local entrepreneur for $1 million over a smart-phone application allowing passengers to bypass dispatch to hail cabs faster.

According to the statement of claim, filed in Court of Queen’s Bench last month, Mayfair, Associated and Checker cab companies are calling the FastCab phone app “unfair competition.”

It’s the latest wrinkle in the local taxi industry saga. On Friday, the city’s taxi and limousine advisory committee is debating a city report about smartphone “e-hail” apps.

In the report, the city said its review finds the taxi app is operating simply as an electronic form of hailing a cab, and not acting as a broker.

However, taxi companies disagree. The Jan. 29 statement of claim obtained by the Herald accuses FastCab of operating as a taxi broker without a brokerage licence.

“They market their services as a ‘tech-savvy’ product that will allow the travelling public greater access to taxicabs, when in fact all they create is a queue-jumping system for people with smartphones in a position to pay an incentive,” reads the five-page statement of claim.

Since launching FastCab late last summer, 3,200 users have signed up, and 250 are cab drivers, founder Jeff Doepker said.

But he fears industry bigwigs may be working against him.

“We suspect there’s a lot of pressure on the drivers not to use us,” said Doepker, who declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The goal of the taxi hailing app is to bypass dispatchers so customers can skip the busy signal and order cabs directly.

The app, available for iPhone format and Google Android, sends a request to registered drivers.

For now, cab companies are saying little about the lawsuit but are preparing to speak up at Friday’s meeting.

“It’s inappropriate for me to comment when it’s in the hands of the court,” said Kurt Enders, owner of Checker Transportation.

Enders is making a presentation to the committee on Friday.

“We don’t agree with the city’s position. We have some concerns,” he said.

Cab drivers appear mixed on the issue.

Some said Tuesday they don’t see a need to replace dispatchers.

One driver, who didn’t want his name used, said safety is a concern.

“It’s not safe. I don’t know who’s calling me,” he told the Herald.

The city’s taxi bylaw does not prohibit any form of hailing of a taxi.

The city report says that through communication and enforcement of existing bylaw provisions, it’s confident the issue can be sorted out.

But the taxi industry might have the final say.

While there is no prohibition on the use of smartphone applications to facilitate electronic hailing of taxis, the bylaw does not restrict brokers, as a matter of private contract, from prohibiting affiliated drivers from using ehail applications.

Meanwhile, the city continues working with the committee to hammer out details about using GPS to track cabbies’ whereabouts.

The taxi crunch in Calgary has become so regular, the city took the unusual step of issuing a warning to citizens last Halloween.

The city released 55 new, non-transferable accessible taxi plate licences that went to drivers, not brokers.

They come with conditions, including that cabs must be accessible and available to the public Friday and Saturday nights until 4 a.m.

The city also wants cabs to report their whereabouts through GPS, so it can better monitor where taxis are and at what hours.

It was the first change to the city’s 1,411-cab fleet in about five years, when independent drivers were given the city’s first 100 accessible taxi plates.

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