Gatineau taxi drivers to strike Monday over proposed reforms –

Gatineau taxi drivers to strike Monday over proposed reforms -
Taxi drivers on strike Monday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Cab drivers in Gatineau, Que., are taking part in a one-day walkout Monday to protest sweeping reforms to Quebec's taxi industry.

If passed, Bill 17, which was tabled Wednesday by Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel, will deregulate much of the industry.

Taxi permits would be abolished, territorial restrictions would be removed, and a single set of requirements would be imposed on all operators on areas such as training and background checks.

The scenario currently being considered in Gatineau is a strike from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with services maintained for disabled passengers who have medical appointments.

As of Sunday afternoon, four of Gatineau's five major taxi company owners — Aylmer Taxi, Bob Taxi, Crown/Régal and Taxi Loyal — had told Radio-Canada they intended to take part.

"It's an illogical law. It will eradicate the taxi industry," said Bob Taxi owner Toni Fadel.

"It will force bankruptcy upon the owners, compromise revenue for drivers, as well as worsen customer service."

Taxi drivers would maintain some exclusivity under the changes, including being the only drivers able to pick up people who hail them from the street or contact them through a dispatcher.

The province has also announced it will spend another $250 million to compensate taxi drivers whose permit value has dropped since Uber's arrival, raising the total compensation package to $500 million.

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Quebecs taxi drivers will be on strike Monday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to protest legislation tabled last week by the Legault government that would deregulate the taxi industry.

Montreal taxi driver Abdel Ghani marches toward the P.E. Trudeau Airport to protest against Uber, on Wednesday February 10, 2016. Giovanni Capriotti / Montreal Gazette

Quebec’s taxi drivers will be on strike Monday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to protest legislation tabled last week by the Legault government that would deregulate the taxi industry.

The rumoured tactic was confirmed Sunday afternoon when more than 1,000 taxi drivers and owners from all around the province jammed into a hall in St-Léonard. It is the first of other protest gestures to come, said spokesmen for Quebec’s taxi associations. They said the tactics will not stop until Bill 17 is withdrawn. Drivers plan to protest on Monday at sites around the province, organizers said

The bill would deregulate the industry that transports people by removing costly requirements to drive a taxi and by allowing variable rates for their services, as is the case with Uber and other ride apps. Abdallah Homsy, a spokesman for the drivers, said the bill would eradicate the taxi industry in Quebec.

The taxi drivers said that adapted transport trips already reserved through the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) would be honoured on Monday. The STM confirmed this on Sunday but said that its Taxibus service would be disrupted by the strike.

Transport Minister François Bonnardel announced the government would give $500 million to taxi drivers as compensation for the bill that would shake up the taxi industry if adopted — an amount derided as “peanuts” by people at the Sunday meeting.

Calling the bill “irresponsible” and “inhuman,” speakers said it would force many drivers and owners into bankruptcy. “We want to protect our permits and the value of those permits,” said one.

Owners fear that taxi permits that some bought for more than $200,000 could eventually worthless if the law is passed. Already their value has decreased since the introduction of Uber and other ride-sharing apps.

“We have an industry facing bankruptcy and we are here to defend the industry and want this bordel of a bill withdrawn,” said one speaker.

Serge Lebreux, spokesperson for the Association des taxis des régions du Québec, said that, with the bill, the transport minister is attacking a symbol of multi-ethnicity. Many taxi drivers are immigrants.

The minister asked for cooperation of the taxi industry and the opposition in the National Assembly, Homsy said — but this was after the bill had been tabled.

“Our response is yes. We will meet with the minister. But we want the minister to correct its error: We want him to withdraw the bill.”

Antonella Scalia Arcuri, who attended Sunday’s meeting, had five permits left to her when her husband died in 2012 at 41 of a brain aneurysm. The couple had been married for 30 months; their son was 17 months old and their daughter four months old.

“I was lucky,” she said. Friends of her husband and the general manager of Taxi Coop de l’Est, Joseph Naufal, “all joined to help me to catch up with the business.”

She has five drivers driving for her, some who have been on the job since her husband was alive. The taxis are her only source of income and she has been able to get by. “I don’t live glamorously. No vacations. My priority is taking care of my kids and making sure my drivers are happy,” she said. “My drivers even know my kids. It’s almost like a family bond.”

“One of my drivers just bought a house,” she said. “This is the worst thing the government could do to us. Where’s the humanity? What they are trying to is ruining the industry and families built on it.”