'Angry' taxi drivers block Montreal streets over Uber deal

Taxi drivers disrupted traffic in Montreal most of the day Wednesday, in a bid to show just how mad they are about the Quebec government's recent deal with Uber.

Group called protest a 'strike' but acknowledged participation was optional

A taxi driver holds up a sign in opposition to the presence of Uber in the province of Quebec during a demonstration in Montreal on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Honking their horns and crawling through city streets, at least 100 taxi drivers staged a protest in Montreal most of the day Wednesday, in a bid to show just how mad they are about the Quebec government's recent deal with Uber.

Benoit Jugand, spokesman for the Front commun des taxis, a coalition of taxi industry groups, said taxi drivers are being treated unfairly.

"People are shocked. They're angry," he said.

Earlier today, travelling at about 20 km/h, the vehicles made their way onto Highway 40 to the Décarie expressway then exited onto the Ville-Marie highway to get downtown.

Arriving at around noon, the drivers blocked several streets, creating gridlock in some areas of downtown on their way to a rally at Dorchester Square.

The affected Montreal streets reopened to traffic around 4 p.m.

CBC reporter Jaela Bernstien describes the earlier traffic chaos in downtown Montreal:

As part of the Uber deal, reached about a month ago, the government will introduce a pilot project allowing the ride-hailing company to operate in the province for a year. The project has not yet begun.

The protesters said the deal will devalue taxi permits, for which some drivers paid between $100,000 and $200,000.

Jugand said drivers aren't against the pilot project, they're against what they say is the two-tiered system the project will create.

Uber drivers won't need to buy the same taxi permits in order to operate.

For that reason, taxi drivers have sent a letter to the premier asking, among other things, for the government to buy back their permits at their 2014 value.

Transport Minister Laurent Lessard said Wednesday the province is studying the proposal.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he hopes Lessard will agree to do just that. 

"A taxi permit that costs $170,000 — that's somebody's pension — and now you're telling them it's worthless," he said. 

The protest came after two failed injunction requests by the group against Uber and the deal with Quebec. 

The coalition called the planned stoppage a "strike" but acknowledged participation was optional.

with files from CBC's Jaela Bernstien and Steve Rukavina