Montreal taxi service improving slowly, but there's still work to do

Montreal’s taxi bureau is ramping up the pressure to get cab drivers to improve their service and better compete with ride-hailing companies such as UberX.

Inspectors randomly checking drivers for compliance with new dress code, willingness to accept credit cards

Pressure from ride-hailing apps like Uber are pushing cab drivers to improve service, but there's still work to do. (Reuters)

Montreal's taxi bureau is ramping up the pressure to get cab drivers to improve service and better compete with ride-hailing companies such as UberX.

Inspectors for the Bureau du taxi de Montréal have conducted 714 random checks on Montreal's cabbies since Jan. 1 and found 9 per cent violating the taxi bureau's new dress code. One was fined.

The rules state drivers must be dressed in black pants and a white shirt.

Drivers must also open the doors for passengers when it's safe to do so, although none of the paramunicipal agency's 14 inspectors scolded a driver for failing to comply.

The bureau issued 23 warnings and five fines to drivers who did not offer an electronic payment system, as required.

Peer pressure growing

"We're asking for major changes in a decentralized industry composed of 11,500 independent workers," said Marie-Hélène Giguère, the bureau's spokeswoman.

Giguère says drivers are slowly improving their service, partly because of the pressure from more convenient and cheaper competitors, but from their peers in the licensed industry, as well.

"We're seeing a greater awareness in the industry than never before," she said. "This is pushing more drivers to denounce colleagues who are hurting the industry's image."

The bureau will ramp up random inspections even more this summer. Starting in June, it will hire an external firm to do another 600 checkups by "mystery clients" who will rate drivers on their service.

The fight against Uber continues

The ride-hailing app UberX is still illegal in Quebec, and the taxi bureau devotes four full-time inspectors and two part-time ones to chase after UberX drivers.

Since the start of the year, 411 UberX cars have been seized: That's 70 per cent of all the cars seized in 2015 (585 seizures).

Most of the 1,000 drivers nabbed have pleaded not guilty to operating illegally, and San Francisco-based Uber has paid for their fines. About 60 of them will appear in municipal court at the end of May.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Jean-Sébastien Cloutier