Just days after Uber lost its license to operate in London, the online ride-hailing service that has been at the centre of various controversies and scandals for the past year, announced it would cease operations in Quebec as of Oct. 14. According to the Montreal Gazette, the final straw for Uber, which has been negotiating with the Quebec government for months in an effort to co-exist with the taxi industry, reportedly was a government demand that its drivers submit to a 35-hour training program already imposed on taxi drivers.
Uber reportedly felt such a program was incompatible with its business model, which relies on part-time drivers who would presumably not be ready to undertake the course. Other government demands included mandatory vehicle inspections every 12 months and background checks on drivers performed by police rather than a private firm.
In short, all hurdles that the company decided were a dealbreaker for its future operations.
As the Gazette adds, the stage seemed to be set for some kind of push back from Uber last Friday, after Quebec Transport minister Laurent Lessard announced the new conditions, describing them as merely an extension of a year-old pilot project permitted under the current rules.
That led Uber Quebec spokesperson Jean-Christophe de le Rue to accuse the government of adhering to “new and challenging regulations that favour old policies instead of incorporating the benefits of new technology … based on our current understanding, these changes significantly threaten Uber‘s ability to continue operating in Quebec.”
The measures came after a year of discussions with the taxi industry, which resulted in 19 recommendations to Lessard. But those discussions followed a series of public splits and policy reversals within the Quebec Liberal government over whether Über could co-exist with the province’s taxi industry.
In May of 2016, the youth wing of the Quebec Liberal Party and some business groups criticized the government’s lukewarm or sometimes hostile attitude toward the ride-hailing service, and while the Couillard government and then Transport minister Jacques Daoust took a tough line with the service, insisting drivers obtain Class 4C driver’s licences and taxi permits, those conditions were eventually dropped and a pilot project developed to try and marry Uber’s business model within the existing taxi industry.
According to the Gazette, Uber has been making waves for the taxi industry and the Couillard government since it became a part of Montreal’s transportation landscape in 2015. The taxi industry complained Uber was engaging in unfair competition, since its drivers didn’t hold expensive permits required of taxi drivers, some of which sold on the second-hand market for nearly $200,000.
Reacting to the news, a coalition of taxi owners said the government must not bend to Uber’s threats to pull out if it doesn’t get its way. “Uber is not obliged to cease operations it is only doing so to frustrate users so they can put pressure on the government,” said Georges Malouf, a spokesperson fort he group. “Once again, instead of negotiating in good faith, Uber prefers to use bullying tactics.”
While the Quebec blowback against Uber may have been many months in the making, with two major markets lost in under one week, one wonders which city will be next, and where the biggest transportation disruptor to emerge in recent years will itself be disrupted as legacy service providers and local politicians continue to push back against the deflation-creating and money-losing company.