Some Quebec taxi drivers hold strike to protest government's deal with Uber

MONTREAL – Many taxi drivers in several Quebec cities went on strike Wednesday to protest the provincial government’s deal with Uber.

The cabbies were asking to meet with Premier Philippe Couillard over what they called a two-tier system that favours the ride-hailing company.

“What (the agreement) is saying is, ‘we’re creating an open market authorizing Uber to work without legislation, without rules and regulations,'” taxi industry spokesman Benoit Jugand told reporters in Montreal. “And we have the taxi industry that needs to work with all those regulations.”

In an open letter to Couillard, industry representatives argued the government should buy back the drivers’ costly taxi permits, which cost them upward of $200,000 if a car is included in the price.

The government’s one-year pilot project will allow Uber to legally operate in the province as of Oct. 14.

Under the agreement, Uber drivers won’t have to rent or purchase traditional permits, but will collect federal and provincial sales tax and contribute to a fund to help modernize the taxi industry.

On Wednesday afternoon, traffic on some Montreal streets slowed to a crawl as taxi drivers protested in two separate downtown demonstrations and loudly honked their horns.

Jugand said drivers were “angry” because their expensive taxi permits will lose much of their value once the market is opened.

“Now they’re going to lose all their money,” he said. “That’s a clear message the premier is sending to all those people.”

On Monday, Couillard reiterated that the pilot project would go ahead despite the objections of the taxi industry.

Taxi industry representatives said Wednesday they still want to meet him because the transport minister hadn’t been given a mandate to negotiate with them.

Previously, the taxi industry unsuccessfully tried to stop the pilot project by legal means.

The last attempt ended in late September, when a judge ruled there were no compelling reasons to prevent Uber from going ahead with the project.