Will CAQ government’s Bill 17 kill Quebec’s taxi industry?

Owners and chauffeurs see the end coming – as Quebec drives them out of business

Will CAQ government’s Bill 17 kill Quebec’s taxi industry?
Champlain Taxi president George Boussios and taxi driver Peter Hatzis are seen here with support staff who are likely to lose their jobs sometime after Bill 17 passes.
Martin C. Barry

The head of Montreal’s largest taxi service is predicting that the region’s traditional taxi industry will cease to exist within three years after the Coalition Avenir Québec government passes Bill 17 to overhaul the taxi industry and level the ground for alternate taxi and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

‘Inhumane’ treatment

“It’s an inhumane law,” George Boussios, president of Champlain Taxi, said in an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia. “It is going to get 22,000 families, 8,000 permit holders into bankruptcy.”

Not only will the businesses they operate be eventually forced shut because the legislation, he added, but the operators will also end up unemployed “because most of these people know nothing else but driving a taxi.”

Says law favours Uber

Boussios maintains that CAQ Transport Minister François Bonnardel was greatly influenced by lobbyists for Uber Quebec into drafting Bill 17 (whose full title is ‘An Act respecting remunerated passenger transportation by automobile’) in a way that favored global ride-sharing services.

“Just to please these ride-sharing companies – these multimillionaire Ubers and Lyfts that come into cities, are terrible corporate citizens, they don’t follow the rules and don’t follow regulations, they destroy everything – to please them,” Boussios said.

A loss for real taxi drivers

While Bonnardel has stated that the basic purpose of the legislation is to level the field for all types of taxi transportation services, Boussios claimed the actual outcome will be to turn the traditional taxi driver into a driver for Uber or Lyft.

While the previous Liberal government had created some initial regulations of its own for the new ride-sharing sector – including 35 hours of driver training and a Class 4C license (taxi and limousine operation) – Bill 17 will require only a Class 5 license (automobile operation). As well, the “T” license plate system for taxis ends, and there will no longer be annual inspections.

Will CAQ government’s Bill 17 kill Quebec’s taxi industry?
Champlain Taxi president George Boussios and taxi driver Peter Hatzis say Bill 17 unfairly favours the ride-sharing industry at the expense of conventional taxi services.

Toll on the economy

Boussios pointed out that Caisse Desjardins has already reacted to the elimination of the taxi operation license system by noting that this will leave the Quebec-based banking institution on the hook for millions of dollars in liens and loans taken out by taxi drivers and fleet operators. They borrowed to pay the sometimes six-number cost for an operator’s license, which will effectively become worthless with the passing of Bill 17.

Although the CAQ government has added $250 million to a previous $250 million fund the Liberals set up to compensate for the loss of value of existing taxi permits, Boussios said it is not an actual buy-out of permits. “If this government wants to buy back our permits, it’s $1.3 billion they have to give us, and then they can get rid of us,” he said. “But we don’t even want that. We just want to keep our work.”

A struggle for survival

With a little more than two months to go before a deadline the CAQ has set to pass Bill 17, Boussios said he and others in the taxi sector have barely been able to think about a strategy for their survival. “We’re trying to figure out how we can survive, but we haven’t gone into depth about our future. But just looking at this Bill 17, it’s not good for the whole taxi industry.”

In addition to the taxi drivers who will be impacted, Boussios said taxi company dispatchers and other support staff will also be affected. Recent immigrants to Quebec and Canada (who historically have worked as taxi drivers) will be particularly affected, he added.

Says there will be social costs

And if the government thinks it’s going to save money in the long-run, he said they have another thing coming. “They’re going to pay for it with welfare and social services, with unemployment. In the long-term, it’s probably going to cost the state more than it would cost to buy them out. Don’t forget: these people are often driving a taxi because they can’t do anything else. So what will they do?”

While the traditional taxi industry has been portrayed during this conflict as reacting particularly strongly against Uber, Boussios insisted, “It’s not about Uber – it’s about eliminating 10,000 jobs and businesses to make a terrible corporate citizens that doesn’t pay its taxes the main transportation in Montreal.”

Sees communists behind it

Peter Hatzis, who sits on the Champlain Taxi board and also drives a taxi, loathes Bill 17 so much that he sees it as the work of communists. “As far as I’m concerned in a communist country you have no choice,” he said.

“What I see here in this province is we don’t know what our choices are. One day it’s like this, the next day they sweep the carpet right out from under our feet. They change from day to day without consulting us, without asking us.”