Quebec grants Uber free ride for another year
by Mike Beggs
Uber can stay on Quebec roads for another year.
Minister of Transport Andre Fortin signed the extension on October 12, just two days before the existing one-year pilot project for Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) was to end. He said this would allow the Province to amass and analyze more data, while measuring the company’s impact on the taxi industry.
However, taxi associations across La Belle Provence claim the decision runs contrary to a commitment made by Premier designate Francois Legault. They say, while on the campaign trail he promised to consult with their industry before making any such moves.
“He didn’t lose any time doing the exact opposite,” Abdallah Hornsy, president of Regroupement des intermedaires de taxi de Quebec (RITQ) told CBC News.
This marks the third time the pilot project has been extended.
In the spring of 2016, the Quebec government tabled legislation which would have forced Uber drivers to have a taxi permit and taxi operator’s license. But Uber successfully lobbied for a compromise, in the form of a one-year pilot.
And at last year’s October 17 deadline, they threatened to pull their popular service from Quebec, before the government extended the trial again.
Over the past three years, Quebec cabbies have threatened to shut down traffic, withhold taxes, and launch legal action to protest their heavy loss of income. And earlier this year, the Province allocated $250 million in compensation to the taxi industry, or approximately $30,000 per license.
But Taxi Champlain owner George Boussios told CBC Montreal’s Home Run, “Either legalize (Uber), or get rid of it. How much data do they need to collect?”
He wants taxi and PTC drivers to operate under the same rules.
However, Uber has pushed successfully for less stringent regulations in numerous cities where it has been licensed. Take Toronto, where under a new bylaw enacted in 2016, (at Uber’s behest) the City mothballed its’ 17-day driver training course and vehicle inspection centre, made security cameras optional in Uber X cars (unlike cabs), and allowed Uber to oversee its own insurance and driver background checks. (While the $70 billion Uber has been enthusiastically embraced by consumers the world over, there has been a disturbing number of sexual assault and related charges against its drivers across North America, and in London, England, amongst assorted other crimes, and scandals).
Lobbying for a one-year pilot has been a favourite strategy for Uber. When the City of Calgary took a hard line against it, the ridesharing giant pulled its service for several months -- all the while amping up the lobbying pressure (including petitions signed by its many customers), until the city agreed to a one-year trial.
Co-op/Crown Taxi leasing manager Ernie Grzincic alleges, “It’s organized pressure by Uber.”
“And, we’re seeing the result of that. They’re advertising this as a safe ride home, but the reality is we do need some standards.”
From the point of view of municipalities, granting a pilot project represents a chance to further weigh out the pros and cons of ridesharing. But it also presents an opportunity to cut back on regulations, while, in many cases, collecting a lucrative per run fee from PTC’s who are granted unlimited entry to the market.
When asked if he was surprised to see Uber get the one-year extension in Quebec , Lawrence Eisenberg, owner of Toronto’s Lucky 7 Taxi, just laughed.
“No, in a word,” he says. “It’s all about dollars and cents. They’re all making money off it, except the taxi business.”
From Mississauga, where his city is in the midst of a one-year PTC trial, All-Star Taxi account manager Mark Sexsmith agrees.
“I’m not surprised at all. It seems to be just a rollover thing, to give them another year of unlimited entry,” he alleges. “It’s the annual extension of a temporary license.”
He reports that under the pilot, his brokerage’s business has “flat-lined”.
“We’re always out digging up new accounts, but it doesn’t give the dynamic growth the industry needs to remain viable,” he tells Taxi News. “All you have to do is look at the number of plates on the shelf. It’s over 50, now.
“(The pilot) has entrenched the PTC’s. And it’s getting to the point where the politicians are just going to throw up their arms and say, ‘You’ve got so many (drivers) depending on this income. And think about the public inconvenience if we (ban ridesharing).”
Taxi Action president Behrouz Khamseh alleges, “It’s a favourite game that the politicians play.”
And retired Toronto owner/operator Hubert Leach asserts that, “The City is responsible for all of the (ugly) matters that arise against the riders, and taxi operators.”
“Because (Uber) can get a lot of youngsters in for a cheaper ride, they’re allowed to continue,” he observes.
Another veteran owner Bob Boyd suggests that, in the more labour-friendly Quebec, the government must have some stipulations in place for the trial to prevent Uber from “poaching a lot more” off of licensed taxis.
“I think the Quebec government thinks differently than here, where they wanted Uber,” he alleges— (as evidenced by Mayor John Tory’s pro-Uber proclamation, made almost immediately after his election, four years back).
Eisenberg is among the three plaintiffs in the $1.7 billion class action suit being pursued by Toronto plate owners against the City of Toronto. Of the $250,000 compensation granted to Quebec cab operators, he maintains, “That’s only a small amount. They’re giving them back 25 percent of the (lost) value.”