MONTREAL – Montreal taxi and limousine drivers targeted the city’s airport Wednesday as part of their protest against Uber, promising to increase pressure tactics if the company doesn’t suspend operations.
Drivers descended on Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in the morning and refused to pick up passengers arriving in the city, leaving travellers stranded on the taxi platform.
The protest lasted a few hours and no flights were disrupted.
A spokesman for the cabbies, Benoit Jugand, said Uber is allowed to operate at the airport, even though the taxi industry has a $2.5-million contract with the agency that runs the facility.
”We have to send a message: Uber is not welcome in Quebec,” Jugand told a news conference. ”We have laws that are clear and we want them to be respected…The people who work in the taxi industry, mothers and fathers, are people who respect laws.”
The airport authority later issued a statement to say Uber is not available at the airport.
California-based Uber is an app-based business that operates in 40 Canadian communities as well as around the world. It allows people to request rides over their phones and sets them up with drivers who use their personal vehicles. Getting an Uber ride is typically cheaper than taking a taxi.
Cabbies are concerned that Uber drivers have an unfair advantage because they’re not subject to licensing and insurance rules.
The Quebec branch of the United Steelworkers union, which represents many Montreal cab drivers, wants to pressure the province into forcing Uber to stop operating during upcoming legislative hearings into the taxi industry.
The cabbies say they will stop their protests if Uber suspends its operations during the commission’s work.
On Wednesday, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre called for a “truce” between the taxi industry and Uber, adding the company should “stop its activities” during the legislative inquiry.
“We don’t want this to get out of hand or for the worst to happen,” he said. “It’s a very emotional situation and I think we can all sit down and talk in a calm way.”
Quebec Transport Minister Jacques Daoust said he wants Uber to stop its “illegal” activities.
Daoust noted that the government has already seized 1,000 cars operated by Uber drivers.
Uber Canada spokesman Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said it was “unfortunate” Coderre was “seeking to protect the monopoly interests of the taxi industry while overlooking the majority of Montrealers who have made clear their desire for safe, reliable and affordable transportation options.”
The controversy surrounding Uber has raged across the country, with Edmonton city council recently approving a bylaw that would allow it and similar companies to operate legally.
The bylaw takes effect March 1 and includes two licences: one for firms called private transportation providers and the other for taxis.
City officials in Toronto are also working on a bylaw. A report is expected in April. Mayor John Tory has commended Edmonton and says he hopes his city can accomplish the same thing.