Montreal Mayor laughs off Uber’s threat to pull out of Quebec
by Mike Beggs
“Bye-bye, see you later.”
That comment from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre certainly made for a colourful sound bite, in response to Uber’s threat to pull its popular services from La Belle Province.
But only time will tell whether the Province of Quebec and the Mayor will stand by the heavy conditions they’ve laid down on Uber, in order to have its pilot project renewed later this month.
Uber’s threat was prompted by demands that its drivers undergo a full 35 hours of training, and police background checks (the same as licensed taxi drivers).
On September 26, Uber-Quebec GM Jean-Nicolas Guillemette announced his company will leave the province, unless the government eases up on these safety rules. He claimed the government is attempting, “to force a rigid and outdated model” on to Uber’s flexible, cutting-edge model, and that the conditions placed on his company in Quebec were already “severe” compared to other Canadian cities.
He indicated his company would be willing to accept mandated police background checks, but that the 35 hours of training was non-negotiable. He said the vast majority of Uber’s driver/partners are part-timers and this 35-hour training threshold would, “destroy the company’s business model.”
“This is the beauty of the Uber platform,” he said at a press conference, “it has flexibility, that the driver-partners come and go and decide when they want to drive.”
In a TV interview with BNN, Coderre said he wasn’t going to lose sleep over Uber’s threat.
“Frankly, we need to have some regulations, and if they’re threatening to leave, I don’t care,” he stated.
He alleged, “The problem with Uber is the way they have been conducting themselves. They’re very condescending in thinking they own everything. So I’m sorry, it’s not my cup of tea.”
Coderre isn’t the first mayor to lash out against Uber. But, virtually every one heretofore has wound up backing down in the face of the tech giant’s powerful lobbying efforts.
In the fall of 2015, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi warned Uber it could either play by the rules, or hit the bricks. But only a few months later, he recommended a pilot project be set up for the company.
And only two weeks ago, London Mayor Sadiq Khan stood staunchly behind a Transport for London decision not to renew Uber’s license, because it was “not fit and proper” to operate. But after an apology from Uber, and a pro-Uber petition signed by 7,500 of his constituents, he directed TfL representatives to reinitiate talks with the ridesharing giant.
Some 10,000 Quebecers drive for Uber, equating to approximately 3,000 full-time jobs.
After hearing Coderre’s comments, Toronto’s iTaxiworkers Association called on its own Mayor, and councillors to reconsider their position and follow Quebec’s lead. iTaxi applauded the efforts of Transportation Minister Laurent Lessard to enhance public safety across the taxi industry in Quebec.
“Currently in the City of Toronto, elected officials do not have the same level of regard for the protection of Torontonians who utilize the PTC Uber,” says president Sajid Mughal. “From its inception in the Toronto market, Mayor John Tory’s lack of regard for law and order and public safety has paved the way for Uber to diminish the historical standards designed to protect users of taxi services. This is particularly disturbing when we live in an age where municipal governance should enhance protection of the public, not detract from it.”
Mughal emphasizes that in July 2016, Toronto City Council eliminated the training of all taxi drivers as a concession to Uber, while allowing the company to provide ridesharing services without vital public safety measures, such as cameras.
“It is time for these elected officials to initiative regulatory measures such as to restore the public’s confidence in governance at Toronto City Hall, as it is undemocratic to have two sets of laws and regulations over one system of public transportation,” he adds.
Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier will wait and see how this all washes out, with any number of cities ultimately having wilted to Uber’s demands, when push came to shove.
But, he notes the Quebec provincial government is far more involved in the regulation of taxi-cabs than in Ontario, where each municipality assumes that responsibility.
“Given both Toronto and Mississauga have scrapped training programs for new drivers, as well as mandatory vehicle inspections, given Queen’s Park has remained silent since Uber entered the market, I cannot see a similar initiative unfolding in Quebec,” he says. “Will Uber really pull out of Quebec? Or is this yet another ploy by Uber aimed at getting their clients to lobby the government to back off?”
“If Uber does withdraw its services on a permanent basis, without putting up a legal battle – something I doubt very much – this opens the door for those of us operating in the GTHA,” he adds. “Then again, will Mayors Tory or Crombie change their tune regarding Uber, regardless of what happens in Quebec? It seems hard to believe.”
Veteran owner/operator Lawrence Eisenberg doubts the Quebec powers-that-be will follow through with their hard line, with the Uber pilot ending on October 14.
“I’ll bet Uber doesn’t back down, and the government does,” he says. “If they follow Toronto’s example, it makes a lot of sense.”
He seconds Coderre’s allegations about Uber being condescending.
“Absolutely, but our mayor doesn’t think so, does he?” he continues. “I don’t think the City cares. All they’re interested in is collecting (their 30 cents per run from Uber).”
“Why don’t they care about public safety, or about protecting the taxi industry in general? It’s part of their mandate to protect and make sure we have a viable industry. How can we have a viable industry when we can’t make any money?”
What’s more, Eisenberg suggests the tough talk from both sides – in Montreal, and London – may equate to bluffing in a high stakes poker game.
“Talk makes money. Isn’t that true?” he adds. “Is there bargaining on both sides? 100 percent!”
For his part, owner/operator Gerry Manley maintains that in both cities, if Uber’s license gets revoked it will just keep running its cars regardless, because it’s “impossible” to shut them down or enforce against them.