Fifty electric cabs hit the streets of downtown Montreal today as Téo Taxi, Montreal's first e-taxi service, launched for a select group of customers.

The first group of 500 beta testers signed up for the app-based service before the taxis were even on the road.

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No one is more excited about the launch than the company's founder Alexandre Taillefer.

"When I started working on this project, I heard from friends, investors, and the community, 'You're crazy. It will never work,'" said Taillefer, managing partner at XPND Capital and a former "dragon" from Radio-Canada's version of the program Dragons' Den.

Téo Taxi quick facts:

  • The main test fleet is comprised of Nissan Leafs and Kia Souls.
  • All cars are equipped with metres and prices are similiar to those in other Montreal cabs.
  • Téo Noir, the company's high-end service, is testing 10 black Teslas to compete with limousines in the city. ​

It's Taillefer's mission to turn Montreal's taxi industry on its head, creating better working conditions for drivers and dramatically improving service for customers.

"There's nothing you can say that empowers me more than, 'You'll never be able to fix that,'" he said.

Hourly pay for drivers

Téo drivers get paid $15 an hour. They'll also get benefits, including paid vacation days.

"We found out the economic conditions of drivers was probably the number one element we needed to fix to make sure people could get the kind of taxi experience they deserve," Taillefer said.

Moez Dhifallah

Téo Taxi driver Moez Dhifallah says he no longer has to work 16-hour days. Getting home by 6pm means having supper with his wife and four-year-old son, he says. (Shari Okeke)

Moez Dhifallah, one of the first taxi drivers hired by Téo, has worked 16-hours a day for the past eight years. He now has a set, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. shift.

Dhifallah says the schedule allows him to have a balance between work-life and family-life, a change his four-year-old son Ahmed has already noticed.

"He's happy to see me [arriving] home at six o'clock and sharing activities and having supper with him," Dhifallah said.

For the next three months, Téo's service will be limited to the downtown core and only the 500 people who've already signed up for the app will be able to use it. 

They'll provide customer feedback so that Téo Taxi can make adjustments before launching the service to all Montrealers in March 2016. 

No fare hikes

Téo plans to equip every electric taxi with free wifi and a tablet in the backseat for customers to access TV news, newspapers and their choice of music.

It's part of the company's promise to offer "the best and friendliest service in town."

Rules for Téo Taxi drivers:

  • Don't eat in your car.
  • Don't smoke in your car.
  • Clean the car every day.
  • Don't talk on the phone if there is customer inside the car.
  • Do not choose the music or radio station— let the customer choose.

Taillefer says the fares for Téo Taxi will be around the same price as other cab companies. 

A $65 special fare will be offered to customers who pre-book round trips to the airport, to cut down on cabs leaving the airport with customers but returning to the airport empty.

The Téo app will take into account information about trains, airplanes, buses, strikes, events at the Bell Centre to make sure cabs are available where demand is high. Unlike UberX, Téo will not increase its fares during peak periods.

Téo Taxi hopes to have 1,000 electric cars on the road by 2017 and double that by 2019.

"Recruiting the right people and putting the schedules together, making sure they treat the cars, the customers as they should is not an easy job," Taillefer said.

He says they're taking it one step at a time. 

"The [human resources] aspect is what worries me the most but so far, so good," he said. "You see a lot of smiles on drivers' faces," Taillefer said.