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Montreal mayor calls for Uber to pause services after taxi protest

Taxi drivers take part in an anti-Uber protest at Trudeau Airport Wednesday, February 10, 2016 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Hundreds of cabbies noisily bore down on Montreal's international airport on Wednesday in the taxi industry's latest salvo against the ride-sharing company Uber, earning support from Mayor Denis Coderre, who called for the service's temporary halt.

In Toronto, taxi drivers cancelled an anti-Uber protest planned for this weekend, but said their fight is not over. The flare-ups in Canada's two largest cities underscore the challenges facing decision-makers as tensions grow between the beleaguered taxi industry and the unregulated service based in the United States.

Montreal cabbies slowed traffic around Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in the morning. Plane passengers faced longer-than-usual waits for taxis for a short time, and highway traffic heading to the airport got bogged down by a convoy of protesting drivers.

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In one scene at the airport posted on social media, cabbies carrying picket signs swarmed and hooted at a taxi driver trying to drop off a customer.

Responding to the conflict, Mr. Coderre called for the suspension of Uber while Quebec holds planned parliamentary hearings on the issue in coming weeks.

"We need a truce on the part of the taxi industry, and during that time, UberX must cease its activities," the mayor said on Wednesday morning, using the name of one of the company's services. "Let's have a truce. We don't want any excesses. We don't want the worst to happen. It's very emotional."

Provincial transport minister Jacques Daoust went further, saying more than a temporary halt was needed. "Something that's illegal, it has to stop for good," he said in Quebec.

Montreal and Toronto are on a growing list of North American municipal battlegrounds where the unregulated ride-request giant Uber is pitted against the taxi industry. While Edmonton has decided to legalize and regulate the company, other cities are struggling to balance the demands of the traditional taxi industry with consumer demand.

In the meantime, increasingly frustrated cabbies in Montreal are stepping up actions to try to keep Uber out, including going to court in an attempt to shut down the service. Benoît Jugand, spokesman for a union representing 4,000 taxi drivers in Quebec, said in an interview on Wednesday that future actions will include taking photos of Uber drivers and "denouncing" them to the authorities, and protests against companies such as hotels that promote the use of Uber.

Montreal taxi drivers say the service is unfair competition because Uber drivers are unburdened by the cost of expensive permits and commercial insurance. Mr. Jugand said the cabbies targeted the airport because Uber was doing business there even though taxi owners have a $2.5-million exclusive contract.

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The airport authority says it was unfairly targeted, however, since the Uber app is blocked inside the terminal, making it impossible for passengers to use it to summon a ride.

"We're disappointed that we were taken hostage by the taxi industry, since we are following all the rules," said Christiane Beaulieu, a spokeswoman for Aéroports de Montréal. "We deplore that we were easy prey, and [the protesters] used us to make a point."

Uber says Montreal officials are placing the interests of the taxi industry ahead of those of Uber users.

"It is unfortunate to see that once again Mayor Coderre is 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," Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, a spokesman for the service, said in a statement on Wednesday.

"While taxi drivers are protesting, UberX drivers are on the road serving Quebeckers."

Uber says more than 20,000 Montrealers download the company's app each month.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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