Taxi drivers protest to force government to act against Uber
Taxi drivers in Montreal blocked the airport on Wednesday to force the provincial government to take action against Uber.
Drivers gathered outside Place Versailles at 6:30 a.m. and Place Cote-Vertu at 7 a.m., then began their blockade at Trudeau airport as of 8 a.m. They finished their airport demonstration at 10 a.m.
Taxi drivers say they pay $2.5 million each year for the right to pick up passengers at the airport, and are fighting to force Aeroports de Montreal to uphold its end of the contract.
"We're here to make sure that the right of our drivers, and our owners, their families, are being respected," said union spokesperson Benoit Jugand.
"They need to pay to get a job, because they're buying a job, and they need to pay to get into the airport, and they don't get any respect."
"Mr. Couillard, Mr. the premier, needs to take action."
Fewer drivers were taking passengers Wednesday, but adapted transport was not disrupted and they did not block access to bridges or hospitals.
Cops won't let taxis anywhere near the ramp at Trudeau airport. Traffic is a mess.— Stephane Giroux (@SGirouxCTV) February 10, 2016
Drivers say they are fed up with the government demanding taxi drivers pay for permits and insurance in order to work, and yet turning a blind eye when Uber drivers operate without those costly requirements.
One week ago the Steelworkers Union, which represents about 4,000 taxi drivers in Montreal, filed for an injunction to stop Uber from operating in Quebec.
Transportation Minister Jacques Daoust said last week that the government would take action within the next few weeks to deal with the car service, and he met with taxi drivers on Monday to hear their grievances.
The union asked him to publicly demand that UberX cease its operations during parliamentary hearings.
Daoust said on Tuesday he would refuse to do that, and so the union replied by saying it has no choice but to take “drastic measures” to be heard.
The opposition again went after Daoust for not taking immediate action
"What's the minister waiting for to stop Uber's management from committing illegal acts?" asked Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir.
"We're using the means at our disposal to stop illegal practices," Daoust responded.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre was more sympathetic than Daoust to their demands for legal enforcement, and said UberX should shut down until the province decides how to regulate app-based car services.
He said UberX is clearly illegal and engaging in unfair competition with taxis.
Coderre said the taxi industry must modernize, but should be able to do so while competing on a level playing field.
"All I ask for is a truce where everybody relaxes and focuses on one one thing: arguments," he said.
Uber said it isn't interested in a truce, offering this statement:
"It is unfortunate to see that once again Mayor Coderre seeking to protect the monopoly interests of the taxi industry while overlooking the majority of Montrealers who have made clear their desire for safe, reliable and affordable transportation options."
Coderre responded that Uber should seek to be "a good corporate citizen," adding, "If you want to come on our territory, there are standards to respect but there's also a responsibility to make sure you're not part of the problem."
At the same time, Coderre warned the taxi drivers about their protest methods.
"Let's call a spade a spade. If you take people as hostage you will have them against you and then that's it," he said.
Fees without support
On Tuesday, taxi drivers in Quebec City staged a noisy protest, honking their horns and circling the National Assembly on the first day of the winter session.
Taxi drivers say in the short time Uber has been operating in Montreal and the suburbs they have found it harder to find work.
Many customers have no idea that the government sets the price for taxi fares.
Francius St. Avois has been driving a taxi for 26 years, and said he's seen a steep drop in passengers in the past year.
"We see Uber. We see Uber drivers stop, and pick up clients, and go," said St. Avois.
"We know where they pick up their customers, where they are dropping off customers, and we want to tell the government that if they don't do their job, we'll do it," said Union spokesperson Benoit Jugand.
On Tuesday, he picked up just three clients during four hours of work.
"We have to pay so much, and what do get for it? We have to spend $1,000 for a licence plate good until March 31. We have so many things we have to pay, and Uber doesn't," said St. Avois.
Studies show that many UberX drivers are earning about $5 an hour or less after they account for fuel and wear and tear on their car.