Quebec's taxi industry is stepping up its fight against ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc., unveiling plans to file a court injunction this week seeking to shut down the service in the province.
The move by the union representing 4,000 Quebec drivers and taxi owners comes on top of a class-action lawsuit application against Uber, and warnings that more protests by the taxi industry against the popular service are coming. Union leaders on Sunday spoke about an "Uber hunt" to be held Feb.10, where cabbies will be scouting for Uber drivers and denouncing them to the authorities.
"This isn't ride-sharing. This is transport between point A and point B for payment and it's clearly illegal" in Quebec without a permit, said Alain Croteau, Quebec director of the United Steelworkers union, which represents the taxi workers. "It has to stop."
The legal salvo is the latest pitting taxi drivers around the world against the San Francisco-based ride-request company, whose market valuation at the end of 2015 was pegged at $62.5-billion (U.S.). The taxi drivers say Uber is dodging regulations they're forced to accept, including buying pricey permits and commercial insurance to operate.
Uber denounced the injunction request as a ploy by Quebec's taxi industry to cement its hold over the urban transport market and stifle competition.
"This request for a protectionist suit is without merit and aims at preserving the monopoly of the taxi industry to the detriment of consumers," Uber Canada spokesman Jean-Christophe De Le Rue said in an e-mailed statement. "We believe that Quebeckers deserve an alternative transportation option that is safe, reliable and affordable and that taxi and ride-sharing can complement each other."
Quebec lawmakers have long declared Uber, which uses an app that matches drivers with passengers seeking short-distance transport, illegal. The government has given powers to inspectors affiliated with the province's vehicle licensing agency to stop and seize Uber cars. Separately, Revenue Quebec raided Uber's offices in Montreal on suspicion that the company violated tax laws.
Despite that, the service has continued to thrive in the province. According to Uber, roughly 300,000 trip requests are logged in Montreal every month. The company said in November it had created more than 1,400 full-time equivalent jobs in the city over the previous year.
Uber maintains that it is offering drivers a new way to make a living and has urged the province to regulate it, like the city of Edmonton did last week. The taxi industry insists that the market isn't big enough for both players in Quebec and that Uber is fostering black-market labour because it doesn't pay its proper share of taxes.
"We've been pretty peaceable so far in terms of our response," said Patrice Belleville, a Montreal taxi owner who has experienced an unspecified decline in business since Uber's arrival. "But now it's time to take it to another level."
Attempts in various parts of Canada to win injunctions against Uber have had mixed results.
A judge in Calgary suspended Uber service in that city in November to allow municipal lawmakers to update legislation governing ride-hailing. Last July, an Ontario Superior Court judge denied an application by the City of Toronto seeking to shut down Uber, saying that "none of the ancillary aspects of Uber's business – recruiting drivers, marketing, billing, customer relations and the like" – are subject to a requirement to obtain a licence.