'Pirate' cabs abound in Gatineau's bar district
Drivers offer rides for cash, in violation of Uber and Quebec's rules, to meet unmet demand for taxi services
People are turning to "under the table" taxi services in the downtown bar district of Gatineau, where legal taxis can often be hard to find.
The vehicles have no signs on their roofs, no meter to calculate fares, and drivers simply call out "taxi, Uber" to attract bargoers after a night out in Old Hull. The passengers and drivers then negotiate a cash fare.
These drivers often take clients who've had a few drinks and might not realize they're getting into a pirate cab, according to Chloé Boissonneault, a server at Où Quoi. She said she took a ride from one of those drivers weeks ago, after a night of drinking.
"The first person who says 'taxi, Uber,' when you're a little tipsy, you don't really ask yourself questions," she said in French.
Her father noticed that the driver who took her home that night was driving without any commercial or taxi markings.
Afterward, she realized there was no taxi meter in the car and the driver had asked her for $20 in cash.
"As a woman, it's worrying, honestly, especially when they're people that you don't know at all," she said, adding she never wants to ride in a pirate taxi again.
"I'm too afraid. I did it because I wasn't aware," she said. She now recommends that her customers wait for a real taxi, even if it takes longer.
'They're here all the time'
But some customers in Old Hull are fed up with the long wait for cabs after bars close.
Salomé Cloutier-Courval, a student in her 20s, said she's chosen to do business with clandestine taxi drivers.
"They're here all the time. [The pirate taxis] wait and we hop in. The only issue is that we can only pay with cash," she said in French.
Cloutier-Courval said she does think twice before knocking on the window of a fake taxi.
"I clearly have worries [sometimes], since this person isn't tracked anywhere, unlike taxis [and Uber drivers]," she said.
3 offers in 1 night
After a previous CBC/Radio-Canada report on the lack of taxis in Old Hull — caused by taxi drivers prioritizing Casino du Lac-Leamy clientele over downtown — several people have come forward with stories about taking rides from pirate taxis.
On a reasonably busy Thursday night, Radio-Canada visited the bar district with a hidden camera. The reporter was approached three times by drivers offering illegal transactions.
On two occasions the drivers identified themselves as working for Uber and offered to take cash instead of payments through the app.
One of them said he does transactions like that about once a week, "when people are drunk."
Uber says drivers must use app
Uber Canada, for its part, condemns the actions of those drivers.
Spokesperson Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said "out-of-platform" rides are illegal, according to Quebec's taxi rules.
Uber users must hail their ride and pay using the mobile application.
"Uber absolutely does not tolerate these practices and when a proven case ... is brought to our attention, the individual will immediately and permanently lose access to the app," de Le Rue said in a written French statement.
'Under the table'
The third time the reporter was approached, the driver rolled down his passenger side window and offered a ride.
"Need a taxi? I drive taxi under the table," he said in French.
During the ride, which was captured on hidden camera, the driver said he doesn't declare his income from driving, continues to receive social assistance payments and regularly provides rides.
These pirate taxi drivers are not following the law, according to Mila Roy, a spokesperson for Quebec's Ministry of Transport.
'Penalties are high'
"If you offer transportation from the street without being certified by either a taxi permit or being part of a company, it is an illegal act," Roy said.
Quebec's taxi law says drivers must have a class 4C driver's licence and they need authorization from Quebec's Transportation Commission before they can offer their services.
"The penalties are high for pirate taxi drivers, pirate Uber drivers," Roy said. They could face fines between $2,500 and $25,000, and, depending on the situation, their vehicle may be seized and their licence could be suspended.
Passengers should look for taxis with a light on the roof of the vehicle, a licence plate starting with the letter 'T,' and a meter to calculate the fare, Roy said.
She said the ministry recommends using licensed transportation services or carpooling "for your own security."
With files from Radio-Canada's Jérôme Bergeron