Taxi drivers hold off on work stoppage to protest Uber deal

Montreal taxi drivers, angry at a government deal with ride-hailing service Uber, have decided to delay applying pressure tactics pending the outcome of a meeting tomorrow with Transport Minister Laurent Lessard.

Some drivers warned they could face sanctions if they participate in a stoppage

Meetings were held in Montreal and Quebec City today to discuss the taxi industry's response the government's deal with Uber. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Insults were hurled and tough action was promised during a meeting of taxi drivers to organize a response to the Quebec government's deal with ride-hailing service Uber, but in the end, they decided not to strike. Not now, anyway.

The meeting's organizers, RTAM-Métallos, say they will lay out their pressure tactics after a meeting on Monday with Transport Minister Laurent Lessard.

Cabbies are worried the deal with Uber will undermine the value of taxi permits, which can cost close to $200,000.

Chris Michailidis says he's been paying his permit off for more than 10 years. To make ends meet, he leases it out to other drivers while he's not working.

"Now I can't even find drivers to rent my permits because their going to Uber and they're driving their private cars," he said. "What do you want me to do now?"

Although cabbies are holding off on a work stoppage, they did lay down some guidelines to follow as they explore pressure tactics. For one, drivers agreed not to disrupt services for disabled passengers. 

They also plan to seek an injunction against the agreement as well as explore possibilities about filing a class action lawsuit.

Debate was heated at times during the Montreal meeting, which was attended by several hundred taxi drivers. (Emily Brass/CBC)

Sanctions for stoppage

Earlier in the day, the owner of the largest taxi operation in Montreal warned his drivers they will be punished if they take part in any work stoppage. 

"We sent a clear message — the last thing we want is to take the population hostage with taxis," said Alexandre Taillefer, whose company Taxelco owns both Diamond Taxi and Taxi Hochelaga as well as Téo Taxi. 

"If there are people from our companies who take part in protests that are judged illegal, and that affect the reputation of the industry, there will be sanctions, which could include being disaffiliated from Diamond or Hochelaga."

Government deal questioned

Taxi drivers and the owners of taxi permits are upset the deal reached last week with Uber will provide the service with permits for its drivers on a pilot-project basis, in exchange for payments to the government per ride. 

The RTAM-Métallos, an association of taxi drivers affiliated with the steelworkers union, has argued the deal introduces too much competition and waters down the value of existing taxi permits.

Montreal's taxi industry hopes to coordinate its response with its counterparts in Quebec City, who also held a meeting Sunday. 

"We envisage an escalation of pressure until the government treats the situation fairly," said Hamid Nadji, a spokesperson for Regroupement des propriétaires de taxis de la capitale, an association of taxi owners in Quebec City. 

"That could translate into a 48-hour strike."
Alexandre Taillefer, who owns both Taxi Diamond and Hochelaga Taxi, warned his drivers they could be punished if they participate in a work stoppage. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

For his part, Taillefer — whose private equity firm received start-up capital from the provincial development agency — argued the Uber deal safeguards many of the benefits that come with a taxi permit, such as the ability to be hailed and access to reserved lanes.

"To have a taxi permit today in Montreal remains a good thing," he told Radio-Canada. "The deal maintains the value of permits for drivers."

With files from Emily Brass and Radio-Canada