Alexandre Taillefer an important ally in quest to quell taxi unrest
But can Quebec's new taxi magnate rein in anxious cabbies?
As the Quebec government works to get taxi drivers on board with the Uber pilot project, the man who controls 40 per cent of Montreal's taxi market will be an important ally.
Alexandre Taillefer launched his all-electric taxi company, Téo Taxi, to polite applause last year. It was, after all, a socially minded business venture in an industry allergic to innovation.
But when Taillefer's company, Taxelco, bought out Taxi Diamond last month, he suddenly became the giant of the Montreal taxi industry, having already acquired Hochelaga Taxi.
He made that added weight felt on Sunday.
Taillefer, standing outside the Ritz-Carleton, warned his drivers they could lose their affiliation with his companies if they resorted to work stoppages to protest the Uber deal.
"We sent a clear message," he told Radio-Canada, and repeated the message to other media outlets as well.
Whether or not his warning registered, the drivers opted to delay holding a stoppage, at least for the time being. That will be relief for the Liberal government, for whom the Uber file has been nothing but a persistent headache.
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A budding bromance?
What became clear at a rowdy meeting held by drivers on Sunday in Montreal is that they are desperate to have the government backtrack on its deal with Uber, which will allow the ride-hailing service to operate legally for at least the next year.
In exchange, the government will get a payment from Uber for each ride it offers.
Taillefer defended the deal, calling the concessions won by the government "unparalleled in the world."
Premier Philippe Couillard, for his part, has made no secret of his fondness for Taillefer and his business. He has repeatedly cited Téo as the model the taxi industry should emulate in order to modernize itself.
In Couillard's eyes, the app-based Téo combines the social-economy and social-media friendly elements of Uber with the regulated dimension of the taxi industry.
Taillefer, moreover, has promised to gradually introduce greener vehicles to his Montreal taxi fleet and make their service more professional. This, he claims, will allow him to beat Uber at its own game, i.e. being cheap and easy to use.
It's all music to Couillard's ears.
"At the end of the day if you provide what the customer wants, you'll win," Couillard said last week, discussing Taillefer. "What I like in his attitude is the fact that from the start he says 'bring them on. I'll compete with them and I'll beat them'."
How (not) to make friends
Therein may lie Couillard's unstated hope with the Uber deal: that it will buy Taillefer, and the taxi industry in general, enough time to develop a business model that will force the ride-hailing into a more marginal market position.
The Quebec government, though, is not exactly an impartial player when it comes to Taillefer's venture.
Investissement Québec, the provincial economic development agency, has provided Taillefer's private equity firm, XPND Capital, with $15 million in start-up money. The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec provided another $15 million.
The investment decisions of both the Caisse and IQ are taken independently of the Liberal government. Couillard nevertheless has a political stake in the success of a home-grown rival to Uber that can appease upset taxi drivers.
But Taillefer's embrace of the Uber deal, and his hardline against a work stoppage, won him few friends among Montreal's anxious cabbies.
"He thinks for himself only, he doesn't think for the small guy," one taxi driver told a CBC reporter outside their meeting on Sunday.
"We are the ones doing the job. He's in the office, playing with his computer."
It's not clear how much peace this little-loved boss can bring the taxi industry.
With files from Emily Brass and Radio-Canada