Montreal taxi drivers 'occupy' downtown in UberX protest

The union representing Montreal's 4,000 taxi drivers called Wednesday's protest a "blockade," threatening to slow traffic along main streets while "occupying" other areas around downtown Montreal.

Drivers protest against ride-hailing service UberX 1 day before regulation hearings are set to begin

Taxis queue during Wednesday morning's protest in downtown Montreal. (Jay Turnbull / CBC)

Montreal taxi drivers took their protest against the ride-hailing service UberX to the streets of downtown Montreal Wednesday in the first of numerous pressure tactics planned for this week.

The union representing Montreal's 4,000 taxi drivers called Wednesday's protest a "blockade" and threatened to slow traffic on Sherbrooke Street West and René-Lévesque Boulevard while "occupying" other areas around downtown Montreal.

Taxis proceeded to take up parking spots around downtown but in the end did little to impede the flow of traffic. 

Taxi drivers taking part in Wednesday's protest held signs promoting their claim that Uber gets around paying provincial sales tax and the GST. (Radio-Canada)
Hundreds of cabbies caused traffic headaches last week when they blocked roads and disrupted traffic at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

At one point during Wednesday's demonstration, taxi drivers tried to hail Uber drivers to lure them to their protest.

One Uber driver who showed up was pelted with snowballs and eggs, including one that hit him in the face.

Protesters challenge Quebec premier

Today's pressure tactic comes one day before National Assembly hearings on regulating UberX are set to begin.

Benoît Jugand, spokesman for the Regroupement des travailleurs autonomes Métallos (RTAM) — the group representing taxi drivers — said Wednesday morning that the protest has been sparked by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard's inaction on UberX in advance of the hearings.

Benoît Jugand, spokesman for the Regroupement des travailleurs autonomes Métallos, said Wednesday morning that Montreal's taxi drivers will keep the pressure on until Premier Philippe Couillard takes action against UberX. (Radio-Canada)
"The Premier hasn't heard our appeals to request that Uber suspend its activities while the committee does its work," he said. "He's effectively telling us that 22,000 [taxi drivers and owners] in Quebec are second-class citizens, so for us there's no question of abandoning the struggle."

"We'll form a blockade, we'll maintain the blockade until the premier understands that we're serious."

The union said it won't stop until the ride hailing service ceases operations.

"It is unacceptable that a company does not respect our laws and has the audacity to publicly refuse the government's calls to respect them," Jugand said.

Uber denounces 'violence and intimidation'

For its part, Uber issued a statement condemning the "violence and intimidation tactics used today by members of the taxi industry."

In an email, spokesperson Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said the province "has put in place a commission to hear the views of stakeholders and we believe that the best path forward will be found through dialogue, not violence."

"While the taxi industry is once again protesting, Uber is serving Quebecers," he said. 

"Taxi and ridesharing can complement one another to better serve consumers' needs across the province."

Request for injunction, calls for suspension of Uber

Earlier this month, RTAM filed a request for a permanent injunction to ban Uber in Quebec. The request asks the court to declare Uber illegal, force the company to cease operations and disable its mobile app across Quebec.

Last week, Quebec Transport Minister Jacques Daoust and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre called for the suspension of UberX while a government committee examines how taxis and the popular app-based ride service can co-exist in the province.

Taxi drivers said they plan to protest again on Saturday at the Montreal Casino.

Last week saw taxis protesting UberX jam the lanes leading to the arrivals level at Montreal's Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau airport. (Jay Turnbull / CBC)