Quebec's taxi industry calls government reform 'an act of war'
Ride-booking upstarts welcome increased stability, say passengers will win
The winners and losers in Quebec's taxi industry reforms will become apparent after Bill 17 becomes law, but the province's taxi drivers aren't optimistic about their future standing.
"It's not modernization, it's an act of war," said Abdallah Homsy, a spokesperson the group representing Quebec City taxi drivers. "Everything you've invested, too bad. It's over. You lost."
Taxi drivers in the province, with permits that cost as much as $200,000 a few years ago due to become worthless, see the new bill as a capitulation to the ride-booking industry and massive international firms like Uber and Lyft.
Montreal taxi drivers are upset and concerned about the new taxi industry reforms being pushed by the CAQ government. The reforms would see taxi permits abolished. Existing drivers have paid ~$160,000 for their permits — which could soon have no value. I spoke with Ghalep Matar. <a href="https://t.co/aPFf8SlNUi">pic.twitter.com/aPFf8SlNUi</a>—@katemckenna8
If passed, Bill 17, which was tabled Wednesday by Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel, will deregulate much of the industry.
Taxi permits would be abolished, territorial restrictions removed and a single set of requirements would be imposed on all operators on areas such as training and background checks.
"The era of short-sighted pilot projects is over," Bonnardel said, referring to temporary programs that have allowed Uber to operate in Montreal, Quebec City and Gatineau.
The bill will permit "more services, more competition and more transparency in pricing," Bonnardel said.
Raphaël Gaudreault, a co-founder of Eva, a ride-booking cooperative that hopes to begin service in Montreal this year, told CBC's Daybreak the company is "really happy" with the bill because it eliminates uncertainty.
Eva will start operating under a pilot program authorized by the CAQ government in January, but the reforms will create a permanent role for ride-booking services.
Gaudreault told CBC's Daybreak that some drivers won't earn as much under the new rules, and passengers will come out on top.
"The riders will be winning in the long run," he said. "Because with all this competition between different companies we'll see lower and lower prices for ride hailing."
Some drivers might earn less, Gaudreault said, but Eva hopes to make drivers happy with better rates and a cooperative structure.
"[Our drivers] will democratically decide how the company runs in the province of Quebec," Gaudreault said.
Under the proposed changes, taxis will maintain some exclusivity.
Only vehicles identified as taxis, with rooftop lanterns and taxi meters, would be able to wait at designated ranks. Only taxis would be allowed to pick up people who hail them from the street or contact them through a dispatcher.
Maximum rates for taxis would remain fixed by the Quebec Transportation Commission.
The government plans to stop limiting the territories in which permit holders can pick up or drop off customers, as well as restrictions on the number of vehicles that can serve specific areas.
George Boussios, president of Champlain Taxi and a spokesperson for Montreal taxi operators, said they worked with Bonnardel and the Transport Ministry in good faith and have been let down.
"If this is [Bonnardel's] way of modernizing the industry, by eventually destroying the industry, then his plans were never to modernize the industry," Boussios said. "It was just to let Uber and ride-sharing companies come into this province and run wild."
Bonnardel said the government intends to "accompany the taxi industry in its transition to the new system," and that the law, once passed, will only come into effect gradually.
The province announced Monday that it will spend another $250 million to compensate taxi drivers whose permit value has dropped since Uber's arrival, raising the total compensation package to $500 million.