Uber paying its drivers to flout Quebec law

The ride-hailing service Uber is encouraging its drivers to continue operating in Quebec, even though its activities are illegal under a new law that came into effect last month.

Keep driving, ride-hailing service tells drivers despite absence of pilot project

Pending the implementation of a pilot project, Uber's activities in Quebec are considered illegal. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

The ride-hailing service Uber is encouraging its drivers to continue operating in Quebec, even though its activities are illegal under a new law that came into effect last month. 

It has paid the fines of at least one driver and has offered financial incentives to others to stay behind the wheel. 

CBC News obtained messages an Uber representative sent in September to two different drivers who were seeking to clarify whether they could legally pick up clients.

Amid confusion among Uber drivers about changing taxi-industry regulations, Uber told one driver on Sept. 16: "For the moment, you can continue driving as an Uber Quebec partner-driver as usual." 

But under a law passed last June, which went into effect on Sept. 8, Uber drivers face steep fines and the seizure of their vehicles if they continue to offer rides through the app.

​Support after seizures

Shortly after the law came into effect, authorities in Quebec City and Montreal began suspending the licences of suspected Uber drivers for a week and seizing their vehicles.
An Uber driver received this message from the company last month, even though authorities were indicating it was illegal to offer rides through the app. (submitted by Daniel Blais)

Drivers have been slapped with fines reaching several thousand dollars. 

But Uber told its driver on Sept. 16, "If your vehicle has just been seized, we will continue to support you, as we have done in the past." 

CBC News spoke to one driver who said the company paid his legal fees when his vehicle was seized last month.

Along with the seizure, Fritz Teard was facing a driver's licence suspension and $7,500 in fines after being stopped by BTM agents on Sept. 13. 

"Uber helped me fight the ticket in court," Teard said. "They referred me to a lawyer, who they are paying for."

Base hourly rate for drivers

CBC News also obtained an email the company sent to a driver last week that guarantees a base hourly rate if he continues to offer rides:

Uber drivers are normally paid per ride, not per hour.

The driver who received the email had not driven in some time. The offer was meant to encourage him "to take the road again."

CBC News contacted Uber Quebec seeking comment. The calls were not returned.

Uber's operations in Quebec have faced stiff opposition from the taxi industry. Both sides have held protests to rally support for their cause. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Whither the pilot project?

A pilot project — the product of a deal between Uber and the Quebec government — would have exempted Uber drivers from these sanctions. 

The pilot project, however, has yet to be implemented.

Initial expectations were that it would be running by Sept. 29. But last week, a spokesman for Transport Minister Laurent Lessard, Mathieu Gaudtreault, said the earliest date by which the project would be in place is Oct. 14.

Uber must still apply for a permit to act as a taxi intermediary. 

Without the pilot project in effect, Uber drivers are obliged to respect the provisions of Bill 100, which became law last month. 

"Uber, at the moment, according to our analysis, continues to operate outside the law," said Marie-Hélène Giguère, a spokeswoman for the Bureau du taxi de Montreal (BTM), the agency responsible for upholding taxi industry regulations in the city.

"Since the month of June, we've found [Uber drivers] seem to be poorly informed about their status," Giguère added.

'When will we be able to work in peace?' 

​​Uber continued to instruct its drivers to keep operating, even after Sept. 29 – when it became clear the pilot project was not in place.

A group of Uber drivers gathered on the night of Sept. 28, waiting for midnight to begin picking up clients.
Even after it became clear the pilot project wasn't ready to go by Sept. 29, Uber continued to encourage its drivers to pick up clients. (submitted by Daniel Blais)

Shortly after midnight, they received word that an Uber driver had his vehicle seized by BTM agents. 

One confused driver sent a message to Uber on the afternoon of Sept. 29.

"When will we be able to work in peace under the pilot project?" he asked.

An Uber representative responded the following day, telling the driver the details of the pilot project were still being worked out, but that he could continue working.

"We will inform you of all the details of this deal and the manner in which to respect its conditions in the days to come," the driver was told. 

Gaudreault, the transport minister's spokesman, declined to comment on Uber's "internal communications" with its drivers.

He said it wasn't up to the legislative branch to apply the law. 

Feeling betrayed by Uber

Several Uber drivers contacted by CBC News expressed frustration about the lack of clarity surrounding their legal status and the pilot project.

They also said Uber had done little to inform them about the legal risks they faced following Sept. 8.

"Yes," said Alexander Colorado, when asked if he felt betrayed.

Said Colorado, an Uber driver for about a year, "We received disinformation."

With files from Ainslie MacLellan