Uber says it’s leaving Quebec if province insists on stricter rules

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Just days after the company warned it may leave the province, Uber has confirmed it intends to cease operations in Quebec next month.

Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, director general of Uber Quebec, says if there is no change in the negotiations between the province and the company, it will shut down Oct. 14.

On that date last year, the two sides agreed to a pilot project that allowed the ride-hailing company to operate.

Transport Minister Laurent Lessard agreed to renew that pilot project Friday, but with stricter conditions, including a requirement that drivers undergo 35 hours of training, the same amount as traditional taxi drivers.

Guillemette said the requirement is too much for drivers who only work part-time. Previously, they had to do 20 hours of training.

Quebec is the only Canadian jurisdiction where Uber operates that requires drivers to do training, he said.

The government also wants Uber drivers to have criminal background checks done by police, instead of private companies that do them now, and have their cars inspected every 12 months.

This isn’t the first time Uber has threatened to leave. Last year, Guillemette said if the government legislates the company as it legislates taxis, it would have to shut down.

But that didn’t happen. Guillemette said he is asking Quebec to renew the pilot project as is, and let the two sides continue negotiations afterward.

Taxi drivers unhappy with Uber

Guy Chevrette, spokesperson for the Quebec taxi coalition, said the news Uber is pulling out of Quebec would mean more government interest in helping the traditional taxi industry modernize.

But he said he’s not ready to claim victory yet, pointing out it’s possible the company is using the threat of leaving as a bargaining chip.

“All their profits were made illegally, and on the backs of people who legally, bought a very expensive permit that was devalued, I would say in some cases by 50 per cent,” he said.

Since UberX, which allows non-professional drivers to shuttle passengers around in their own personal cars, arrived in Montreal in 2014, the service has been met with opposition from politicians and taxi drivers alike.

But the conflict ramped up in earnest last year, as the taxi industry increased its efforts to force the province to act.

Quebec’s taxi drivers have been vocal against Uber, saying the government’s agreement to even have a pilot project amounts to a betrayal.

They blame Uber for what they say is the decreasing value of their taxi permits, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They have held protests in Montreal, using their cars to block busy city streets.

This year’s federal budget included what has been called an Uber tax — starting July 1, Uber has had to charge passengers GST/HST on ride-hailing fares.

London’s transport regulator on Friday stripped Uber of its licence to operate, affecting over 40,000 drivers in a huge blow to the taxi app. The company is appealing that decision

In the U.K. city, Uber has faced criticism from unions, lawmakers and traditional black cab drivers over working conditions.

‘A big, big storm’

Mathieu Visser is a full-time Uber driver, and is convinced the company has improved Montrealers’ quality of life.

He said the option of taking an Uber has prompted people to ditch their cars and helped them cut costs.

Mathieu Visser

Mathieu Visser has been driving an Uber for more than two years, and says he will keep doing so until he’s told to stop. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

As far as Visser is concerned, the requirement to do 35 hours of training is too strict, and he doesn’t think he and his fellow drivers need it.

“In two years and a half, we’ve had so many storms inside this battle. This might be a big, big storm. Maybe it’s the last one, maybe it’s the end. I don’t know.”

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Uber says it’s leaving Quebec if province insists on stricter rules

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