Uber introduces new plan to keep operating in Quebec

The head of Uber's Quebec operations said the company is prepared to suspend its activities if the provincial government agrees to the terms of a new pilot project.

Representatives from ride-hailing service, taxi industry present at National Assembly hearings

Taxi drivers demonstrate outside Premier Philippe Couillard's office earlier this month. Hearings into Bill 100 begin today at National Assembly. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The head of Uber's Quebec operations said the ride-hailing company is prepared to temporarily suspend its activities in favour of a new pilot project that it unveiled today.

Jean-Nicolas Guillemette made the suggestion at legislative hearings underway at Quebec's National Assembly on Bill 100, which would force Uber drivers to conform to the same laws as cabbies with regard to regulations such as permits and taxes.

Uber says the bill, if enacted as is, would mean the end of the company's operations in Quebec.

Uber's proposed solution

The proposed pilot project would see:

  • ride-hailing companies such as Uber buy a $100,000 operating permit each year.
  • pay a set tax of 35 cents per trip.
  • ride-hailing companies would also pay a tax of seven cents per ride to Quebec's automobile insurance program
  • begin paying both GST and PST after the first dollar of every ride and provide the government with income summary for every driver every three months.

Uber estimates the tax would bring Quebec more than $3 million a year.

If Uber can sit down with the government to talk and find common ground, "we are ready to suspend our operations during that time," Guillemette said.

"We are showing good faith."

Government skeptical

Transport Minister Jacques Daoust and other members of Quebec's legislature reacted skeptically to Guillemette's offer.

"In terms of how much taxi permits represent, it's very marginal," Daoust said.

Daoust noted Quebec's taxi industry was founded on the idea of supply management and that the government enforces a system whereby people have to pay – sometimes as much as $200,000 – for a permit to drive a taxi.

He said that if the government allowed Uber to operate without buying into the permit system, the value of existing permits would erode.

Uber acting like 'hardened criminal,' says taxi lobby

Tuesday morning, the head of a taxi lobby in Quebec accused Uber of acting like "a hardened criminal."

Guy Chevrette made the comment today in Quebec City ahead of the start of legislative hearings into a new bill seeking to regulate the U.S.-based company.

"[Uber] behaves like a hardened criminal," he said. "It knows it exists in a law-based society. It knows we have laws and rules. Someone who doesn't respect laws and rules, what are they? They're robbers," he said.

The former Parti Québécois transport minister told reporters he thinks Uber will try and stall for time in order to impede the passing of the legislation.

Bill 100 would force Uber drivers to conform to the same laws as taxi drivers regarding regulations such as permits and taxes.

Chevrette says Uber steals money from the state because its drivers don't pay for permits and don't have to shell out for other fees and taxes.

"They steal our taxes," he said. "I'm ashamed that our government is taking so much time to stop a thief," he said.

He said if the government decides to end the taxi-permit requirement, it has to compensate all the drivers who have already paid into the system.

​Transport Minister Jacques Daoust ​has said the legislation is aimed at levelling the playing field in Quebec and ensuring everyone follows the rules, not at pushing out the ride-hailing service.

Taxi drivers have mostly come out in favour of the bill, while Uber has said it wants to reach a compromise with the Quebec government.

Daoust wants to pass the legislation in June.

This is the second set of hearings involving Uber this year. Legislative committee hearings were also held starting in February on the future of the taxi industry.

The hearings run from today until Thursday.

with files from Canadian Press and Radio-Canada