Quebec says Uber should start respecting laws before asking for reforms

QUEBEC – Uber should start respecting the law before it asks for legislative reforms that suit its interests, Transport Minister Jacques Daoust said Thursday during the first day of hearings into the future of the taxi industry.

Daoust said the ride-hailing company has an unacceptable attitude and continued to level stinging criticism at Uber during the legislative committee hearings in Quebec City.

“It’s been a thousand times we’ve seized your company’s vehicles and you say: ‘The law doesn’t apply to me, I won’t listen to it.’ You are not looking for a solution, you are looking for a confrontation and you risk receiving one,” Daoust said.

Sitting across from him during the hearing was the head of Uber in Quebec, Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, who also received sharp rebukes from other politicians on the committee.

Daoust told Guillemette that if his company wanted the government to create rules governing ride-sharing services to work alongside the traditional taxi industry, he would have to start respecting the state.

“The legislature, it exists to make laws,” Daoust said. “You’re in the house where we make laws and what you’re saying is: ‘Until I like the laws I won’t respect them,’ and for me, sir, that’s unacceptable. We will be the ones to impose a model on you.”

Earlier on Thursday Daoust said Uber should publicly disclose data that would permit the Quebec government to recoup taxes from the ride-hailing company since it began operating in the province.

“When we’re talking about 300,000 (monthly) transactions, that’s a lot of money that should be taxed,” Daoust said.

He told members of the legislature he plans to introduce a bill aimed at clarifying the rules governing the province’s taxi business because of the arrival on the scene of the American-based tech company.

The legislative hearings are scheduled to last several days amid increasing tensions between cabbies and Uber drivers.

Taxi drivers are seeking a permanent injunction against Uber that would force its mobile application to be deactivated.

The industry has said Uber drivers are breaking the law and that the company’s services are illegal.

Taxi company owner, Alexandre Taillefer, testified in front of the committee Thursday and called for greater control over Uber drivers.

“We are strongly against contraband taxis,” he said. “However, if the government wishes to allow amateur taxis, it is imperative that the rules are fair, especially when it comes to taxes.”

Taillefer said drivers who hold taxi permits — which can cost up to $200,000 each —should have the exclusive rights to medical and adapted transit, curbside hailing and taxi stands.

He also asked lawmakers to relax rules that prevent taxi owners from gathering their own fleets of cars, as well as other assets and licences in sufficient numbers to create economies of scale.

Uber argues its mobile app, which connects its drivers to customers, makes it a technology firm rather than a transportation company.

At a news conference Thursday, Guillemette, said he and many of his drivers have been victims of intimidation tactics by the taxi industry.

He also pointed to a recent 50,000-signature petition in favour of Uber as proof of the company’s popularity.