EDITORIALS  Support Striking Taxi Drivers, Oppose Bill 17

On Tuesday, September 3, Quebec taxi drivers began a rotating strike, during which only urgent requests (e.g. medical and assistive calls) will be responded to. Montreal taxi drivers held demonstrations at Trudeau Airport on August 26 and Montreal Casino on September 1 as an immediate reaction to talks concerning Bill 17 which resumed on August 27. Initially considered in March, this bill, proposed by the right-wing CAQ government, seeks to deregulate the taxi industry by eliminating the permit required to drive a taxi and enabling variable rates, which would then be set as a function of demand, mimicking ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. This new legislation would also remove the requirement for taxi drivers to hold a 4C license, which has specialized requirements such as not allowing any alcohol in a driver’s bloodstream and requiring a medical examination at age 50. Instead, all taxi and ride-hailing drivers will be required to possess a Class 5 drivers’ license, which can be obtained by any individual over the age of 16 and allows drivers to have alcohol in their system up to the standard legal limit. By easing the restrictions on taxi drivers, the Quebec government is pushing taxi drivers into a more precarious position.

To make up for the removal of the permit requirement, the bill includes compensation for drivers with taxi licenses, but this is not enough. An elected representative from the Bureau du Taxi de Montreal, Hassan Kattoua, says that the formula used to establish compensation rates is punitive: “Transport Minister Francois Bonnardel […] wants to pay the value that the owners paid for their permit,” regardless of when they bought it. Taxi drivers are demanding to instead be compensated for the market value of their permits in 2014 – sometimes more than $200,000 – which has since plummeted with the arrival of ride-hailing apps in Quebec. Taxi drivers who took out large loans to pay for their permits years ago, or bought them as an investment to compensate for the extremely low wages they make annually, are now unable to resell them. Bonnardel’s compensation plan does not take this into account, and would unfairly offer compensations as low as $5,000 for those who purchased their permits 15 years ago. Moreover, the compensation offered by the provincial government to the taxi drivers is being paid for through royalties. A 90-cent royalty fee has been applied to each ride, meaning the government offloads the responsibility to the consumers.

Through this bill, the Quebec government is supporting ride-hailing apps like Uber. These apps, in addition to negatively impacting the taxi industry, are known for their poor treatment of workers. Because Uber has maintained that they are a “technology company” that hires “independent contractors,” Uber drivers are not able to unionize and obtain benefits, nor are they able to protect themselves against unsafe working conditions and biased rating systems. This is a legal maneuver that enables the company to then dismiss workers’ rights, including health care, work hours, and safety standards.

While it is important to be critical of ride-hailing apps, the taxi industry is itself monopolized by a few companies and investors who buy most of the set number of government-issued taxi licenses. Taxi drivers are then consequently forced to buy these licences at grossly inflated prices and rent them out to other taxi drivers to compensate for these costs. The added costs of monthly plate rent or loan repayment already render the taxi driver’s work precarious, which Bill 17 does not take into account. Many taxi drivers are thus pressured to leave the taxi industry and seek employment at ride-hailing companies with fewer regulations and fees, such as Uber.

We must be critical of both the taxi industry and ride-hailing apps, while also supporting labourers. Taxi drivers and ride-hailing app drivers are often pitted against each other. However, in both industries, workers are forced into precarious labour conditions for the profit maximization of their employers. Bill 17 deregulates taxi drivers’ work, privileging ride-hailing apps without any care for fair working conditions.

You can support the taxi strike by refraining from both ordering a taxi during the strike and using ride-hailing services as an alternative. We encourage you to think about the impact that you have when you use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. The reliance on taxi services also comes from a lack of public transit in the province; we must push for massive investment in public transportation infrastructure. If you are travelling at night, keep student-run services in mind, including Walksafe (514-398-2498) and Drivesafe (514-398-8040), which are free services offered through SSMU to McGill students.