Uber threatens to leave Quebec over new ride-sharing rules

By? Julien Besset with Michel Comte in Ottawa

Uber threatened on Tuesday to stop services in Canada’s Quebec province in mid-October, saying proposed new ride-sharing regulations aimed at leveling the field with taxis are too onerous.

“We are going to have to cease our operations in Quebec on October 14,” Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, director general of Uber Quebec, told a press conference, while also calling for negotiations to find a solution to the deadlock that would allow the company to stay.

An Uber stoppage in the province would affect cities including Montreal, Quebec City and Gatineau.

The Uber executive accused the Quebec government of “trying to impose old (taxi) rules on a completely new technological model,” saying “major changes” in the regulations would force Uber to effectively operate like a taxi company with full-time drivers.

Under the new regulations unveiled last Friday, he said, Uber would not be able to attract and retain part-time or occasional drivers.

According to the company, Uber signed up 10,000 drivers in Quebec who made more than eight million trips over the past year.

Guillemette urged the government to reconsider its position and renew a pilot program that allowed Uber to operate in the province over the past year, without any changes.

The original one-year test program, which is slated to end mid-October, required Uber to collect and pay taxes on each trip made by its drivers.

It also capped the time worked by all drivers to a total of 50,000 hours per week.

Quebec Transportation Minister Laurent Lessard said at the time that it allowed taxi and Uber drivers “to compete on a more balanced playing field.”

Last week, the government renewed the pilot but with stricter conditions that would require Uber drivers to undergo 35 hours of training — the same as taxi drivers — and a criminal background check by police.

Uber vehicles would also be required to undergo annual safety inspections.

– Uber’s London woes –

The announcement Tuesday comes after London transport authorities last week said they would not renew Uber’s license to operate in the British city when it expires, due to public safety concerns.

Company CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has apologized for “mistakes” by the US company but vowed to appeal the decision.

Uber has seen its global popularity explode since it launched in 2009 in San Francisco, but also faces bans in other major cities including Cape Town, Mumbai and New Delhi.

While the company has faced protests in Canada from taxi companies and drivers, the public has been generally supportive as it expanded to more than a dozen cities.

Edmonton, the capital of Alberta province, became the first Canadian city to vote to legalize Uber at the start of 2016.

The Canadian capital of Ottawa also gave Uber the green light to begin service last year, along with Halifax, Windsor and other cities.

In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, the municipal government created a new category of taxi license required for Uber drivers.

Officials at the Quebec ministry of transportation were not immediately available for comment on Uber’s Quebec exit announcement.

But Taxi Intermediaries in Quebec, which represents some 2,000 taxi owners in the province, called Uber’s threat to interrupt its service if it does not get concessions from the Quebec government “blackmail.”

“Uber, instead of negotiating in good faith, prefers to do commercial bullying,” the group’s spokesman Georges Malouf said in a statement.

Taxi Intermediaries urged the government not to give in to Uber’s demands, which they say would “lower safety standards for passengers.”

The group also pointed to Uber and its rival Lyft continuing to operate in Boston, despite similarly stiff regulations in that city.

(Agence France-Presse)

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