Gatineau taxi drivers strike –

Gatineau taxi drivers strike -
Quebec taxi drivers stop working, slow traffic over proposed changes to industry
Files: MONTREAL, QC.: FEBRUARY 10, 2016 — Montreal's taxi driver Abdel Ghani marches toward the P.E. Trudeau Airport to protest against Uber, on Wednesday February 10, 2016, Giovanni Capriotti / Postmedia

Taxis are not operating in Gatineau on Monday as drivers join a province-wide strike to protest provincial legislation that would deregulate the industry.

Even as Montreal cab drivers — furious over proposed provincial legislation they say will put them out of business — took their message to the streets Monday morning, Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel said the cabbies will not receive one penny more than the $500 million offered to them in compensation for the loss in value of their taxi permits.

Striking cabbies wont get more than $500M offer: transport minister

The legislation introduced last week will destroy the taxi industry, said Georges Nohra, who owns a plate and operates Georgis Taxi in Aylmer.

“I have no choice but to be here today,” said Rick Lopez, one of the drivers. “We have been robbed. I worked 12 years to pay off my licence, and it’s still not paid, and my house is connected to this mortgage. The government is listening to the Uber lobby and letting everyone in, but there’s no cohabitation possible with Uber.”

Bill 17 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.

The drivers, who slowed traffic on Highways 40 and 20 in Montreal and Highway 15 in Laval, are not only unhappy with the compensation offer, but also with Bonnardel’s proposed deregulation of their industry, which they say will hand their business over to ride-sharing services like Uber.

If the legislation is passed, the value of a taxi licence plate would plummet to virtually nothing, said Nohra in an interview Monday morning.

Taxi drivers have mortgaged their houses to buy plates in Gatineau for $200,000 to $250,000, said Nohra. Thousands of people in the province are supported by the income earned by taxi drivers, he said.

“I have to go and pick up my wife at work, and she’s waiting,” Nath said, after he had been stalled for 20 minutes without going as far as a block. “It’s frustrating. This is not a good way to protest. Innocent people are (being affected).”

About 100 taxis drove slowly around Place du Portage in Gatineau Monday (March 25, 2019) in protest of the planned provincial legislation that will deregulate the industry. Julie Oliver / Postmedia

Dozens of them met at the Galeries d’Anjou shopping centre early Monday, and travelled very slowly on westbound Highway 40 toward Trudeau airport. They then changed direction and took their slow-moving convoy along Highway 20 eastbound toward downtown Montreal.

Nohra said he was also concerned that safety will be compromised under de-regulation. “You can get your wife’s car and put a plate on it, just fill in an application…the safety won’t be as good.”

Police block taxis from entering the Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau Airport during a strike by taxi drivers as they protest new legislation deregulating parts of the taxi industry in Montreal, on Monday, March 25, 2019.   Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

About 180 cabs in Gatineau are participating in the protest, said Toni Fadel, owner of Bob Taxi. Drivers will, however, provide “essential services,” such as rides for people who need to travel for medical reasons, he said.

Gatineau taxi drivers planned to converge around noon on Monday around the Place du Portage government complex, but their goal is not to tie up traffic, he said.

The strike was confirmed Sunday afternoon when more than 1,000 taxi drivers and owners from around the province held a meeting in Montreal to discuss protest tactics.

The government aims to deregulate the taxi industry by removing costly requirements for anyone wanting to drive a cab and by allowing variable rates for their services, notably as a function of demand, as is the case with Uber.

The strike 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.

Taxi drivers bring Cote-de-Liesse to a halt during a strike by taxi drivers as they protest new legislation deregulating parts of the taxi industry in Montreal, on Monday, March 25, 2019.   Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

Quebec 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.

Among the drivers stuck in traffic caused by the protest was Isabelle Rousseau, who was trying to make her way to St-Denis St., and was parked in front of the Queen Elizabeth hotel on René-Lévesque Blvd.

About 100 taxis drove slowly around Place du Portage in Gatineau Monday (March 25, 2019) in protest of the planned provincial legislation that will deregulate the industry. Julie Oliver / Postmedia

Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, where disgruntled cabbies were also disrupting traffic with low-speed convoys on major thoroughfares, Bonnardel made it clear the compensation was “a final amount.”

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.

Commuters were warned by the Société de transport de Montréal that its taxibus service could be affected by the work action, since many buses remain in garages because of steering problems.

Owners fear that taxi permits could eventually worthless if the law is passed. Already their value has decreased since the introduction of Uber and other ride-sharing apps.

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.

Bonnardel is to meet with taxi industry representatives on Tuesday, and said that while he is ready to listen to their concerns, he intends to explain the advantages the proposed reform will bring.

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.

Were not naïve. Our fight is not to get rid of Uber, our fight is to keep our industry alive. Our fight has always been to modernize, he said. I dont see any modernization in his plan, I see elimination, expropriation. Boussios pointed to the measures the industry has taken in recent years, including implementing an app, moving toward using hybrid vehicles (80 per cent of the taxi fleet is hybrid, Boussios said), and using uniform signage on taxi vehicles. We followed all the rules and regulations – in good faith, I may add – and they just turned around and said thank you for spending all that money on apps, thank you for spending all that money on your call centres… and spending money on hybrid cars… thank you so much, but we dont need you anymore, he added.  

“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.”

Last week, the provincial government tabled Bill 17, which is aimed at evening the playing field with ride-sharing apps like Uber by allowing taxis to charge variable fares and eliminating paperwork and fees. There will be less administration, less financial impact for the industry and they will get more money in their pocket, said Bonnardel on Monday. The drivers who rent for $300, $500 a week per permit, they will have more money – they will have $15,000 to $20,000 more in their pocket each year. Some in the industry said they see the bill as a way for the government to favour those very apps. Theres nothing to change – we just want it abolished, said George Boussios, President of Taxi Champlain and spokesperson for Taxi Grand Montreal.

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.”

Taxi drivers in just about every region of Quebec are on strike Monday in an effort to urge the Quebec government not to pass Bill 17, which would deregulate the taxi industry. In Montreal, Quebec City and Laval, drivers organized slow-rolling protests to disrupt the flow of traffic. In Quebec City they were protesting in front of the National Assembly, blocking a major boulevard, honking horns and waving placards, while in Montreal, they took to Highway 20, slowing the pace of morning traffic.

“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.”

We work 16 hours every day and every driver doesnt see his family. Many problems exist because of this, he said. Lots of depression, lots of people get sick. Bonnardel reiterated his stance Monday, adding that drivers will not see a penny more in compensation. Drivers want to modernize Boussios said the taxi industrys goal isnt to eliminate ride-sharing apps, its to be more competitive.

Quebecers hoping to call a taxi today are mostly out of luck as drivers across the province continue their day of protest against the provincial government's proposed law to deregulate the taxi industry.

"People need to understand something: The government created this," said George Boussios, president of Champlain Taxi and the spokesperson for Taxis du Grand Montréal, an association of Montreal taxi companies.

We never wanted a deregulation of the industry, said Boussios. Hes opened it up to everybody that wants to come into Quebec and drive a taxi with just a (Class) 5 licence in the car, you can do exactly what were doing that we have paid for – some of us over $200,000 to get our permit.

If passed, Bill 17 would abolish those taxi permits while removing territorial restrictions and imposing a single set of requirements on all operators.

Some drivers said that the $500 million that will be given to drivers as compensation doesnt do enough, given the fall in value of taxi permits over the past few years.

Taxi drivers argue the law would bankrupt an industry already struggling under the weight of competing ride-hailing services.

There are about 8,800 taxi permits in Quebec and each permit costs between $150,000 and $200,000. The province has earmarked $500 million to compensate drivers. That works out to roughly $57,000 per driver.

Hassan Hachem remortgaged his house to buy his taxi permit for more than $150,000. He's worried he won't be able to afford his mortgage payments if the new law is approved.

More recently, in January cab company Teo Taxi announced it would cease operations, leaving 450 drivers without work. 

"We don't want to be Uber, you know," he said. "We like to be like a traditional taxi, like everywhere in the world."

Costa Kouremenos forked over $210,000 for his permit 10 years ago. The Montreal taxi driver has been picking up fares in the city for more than two decades, but he still owes $30,000 for that permit.

"It's just not right what's going on with this government," he told Daybreak on Monday. "It's absolutely wrong what they're doing."

Taxi Co-Op de LOuest driver Souheil Saade said the matter is about who follows the law and who doesnt.

He hit the streets Monday, protesting alongside fellow drivers who paraded slowly down busy highways including the 720, 40 and 15. There were similar protests across the province.

In Montreal, there were some traffic slowdowns but, at the airport, the taxi queues were empty — travellers either grabbed an Uber or hailed one of the taxi drivers that was shrugging off the protest.

In Sherbrooke, the protest was a bit quieter. With not much competition from Uber, drivers there have decided they don't want to disrupt customers' lives as much and instead decided to strike only from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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.

Taxi drivers' representatives are scheduled to meet Transport Minister François Bonnardel on Tuesday to discuss their grievances.

"It's their right not to provide service, but the dialogue will remain open with the industry to make an effective and respectful transition," the minister's office said Monday.

"We find it unfortunate that taxi drivers are putting off their customers, especially since a meeting is scheduled tomorrow between the minister and the industry representatives to discuss the bill and the compensation program."

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