Slow-rolling: Taxi drivers slow traffic to protest plan to deregulate the industry
Published Sunday, March 24, 2019 11:23PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 25, 2019 6:30PM EDT
Taxi drivers in just about every region of Quebec are on strike Monday in an effort to urge the Quebec government not to pass Bill 17, which would deregulate the taxi industry.
In Montreal, Quebec City and Laval, drivers organized slow-rolling protests to disrupt the flow of traffic. In Quebec City they were protesting in front of the National Assembly, blocking a major boulevard, honking horns and waving placards, while in Montreal, they took to Highway 20, slowing the pace of morning traffic.
Last week, the provincial government tabled Bill 17, which is aimed at evening the playing field with ride-sharing apps like Uber by allowing taxis to charge variable fares and eliminating paperwork and fees.
“There will be less administration, less financial impact for the industry and they will get more money in their pocket,” said Bonnardel on Monday. “The drivers who rent for $300, $500 a week per permit, they will have more money – they will have $15,000 to $20,000 more in their pocket each year.”
Some in the industry said they see the bill as a way for the government to favour those very apps.
“There’s nothing to change – we just want it abolished,” said George Boussios, President of Taxi Champlain and spokesperson for Taxi Grand Montreal.
Taxi groups are set to sit down with Transport Minister Francois Bonnardel on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
“We never wanted a deregulation of the industry,” said Boussios. “He’s opened it up to everybody that wants to come into Quebec and drive a taxi with just a (Class) 5 licence in the car, you can do exactly what we’re doing that we have paid for – some of us over $200,000 to get our permit.”
Taxi drivers said there were better options than deregulation.
“We want the minister to upgrade Uber or all those applications to the level of taxi,” said one driver. “Not downgrade taxi to the level of this chaos.”
Taxi Co-Op de L’Ouest driver Souheil Saade said the matter is about who follows the law and who doesn’t.
“We follow the law 100 per cent and they’re still against us and Uber doesn’t follow any law,” he said.
Some drivers said that the $500 million that will be given to drivers as compensation doesn’t do enough, given the fall in value of taxi permits over the past few years.
“It’s like you having a house, the next day you wake up and your value is zero,” said Taxi Co-Op de L’Ouest driver Charles Artin. “What do you think?”
Saade said the rise of Uber has forced drivers to work longer hours to make a living.
“We work 16 hours every day and every driver doesn’t see his family. Many problems exist because of this,” he said. “Lots of depression, lots of people get sick.”
Bonnardel reiterated his stance Monday, adding that drivers will not see a penny more in compensation.
"Half a billion is a lot of money. It's a final amount for us," he said. "It's a bill that we tabled for the client first, and like I said, it's to find a balance between the new technology and the taxi industry as we know it for 50 years in Quebec."
Drivers want to modernize
Boussios said the taxi industry's goal isn't to eliminate ride-sharing apps, it's to be more competitive.
“We’re not naïve. Our fight is not to get rid of Uber, our fight is to keep our industry alive. Our fight has always been to modernize,” he said. “I don’t see any modernization in his plan, I see elimination, expropriation.”
Boussios pointed to the measures the industry has taken in recent years, including implementing an app, moving toward using hybrid vehicles (80 per cent of the taxi fleet is hybrid, Boussios said), and using uniform signage on taxi vehicles.
“We followed all the rules and regulations – in good faith, I may add – and they just turned around and said thank you for spending all that money on apps, thank you for spending all that money on your call centres… and spending money on hybrid cars… thank you so much, but we don’t need you anymore,” he added.
Rough time for taxis
Since Uber's Quebec launch in 2014, Montreal's taxi drivers have found themselves in a difficult situation. The drivers protested repeatedly, demanding the provincial government take action to protect the industry. In 2017, the then-Liberal government announced new measures for Uber, including expanded background checks and mandatory training for drivers.
More recently, in January cab company Teo Taxi announced it would cease operations, leaving 450 drivers without work.