Thousands of taxi drivers snarled traffic for hours in downtown Montreal on Friday morning as they headed to Quebec’s Transport Ministry René-Lévesque Boulevard West.
They say they are angry at the proposed deregulation of the industry by Transport Minister François Bonnardel.
The drivers drove in from across Greater Montreal, as well as several regions of Quebec.
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The Canadian Press spoke with Abdallah Homsy, a taxi driver spokesperson who travelled from Quebec to Montreal Friday morning.
“We have tried several times to start a dialogue with the minister this week, but his office doesn’t want to hear from us, when every time we are proposing something serious.”
Homsy said more than 1,000 drivers were expected to be involved in the demonstration.
“We must prepare for a long battle, today is Montreal, next week it will be another city. The goal is to be heard by all elected officials of the province,” he said.
Other taxi driver protests could also take place in other parts of the province in the coming days.
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Bill 17 was tabled in March as a way to deregulate the taxi industry and get rid of expensive fees.
It would allow drivers to charge a variable rate, similar to Uber and Lyft. It would abolish taxi permits, which means the ones drivers have now would become obsolete.
Taxi drivers argue they have paid astronomical sums for their licences — up to $200,000 in some cases — and are demanding better compensation.
Earlier this year, the Quebec government said it would give $500 million in compensation to taxi drivers.
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Bonnardel has said the compensation would work out to approximately $77,000 per permit holder.
On Friday, Premier François Legault said the province’s taxi system needs to evolve. He said the compensation offered amounts to roughly $70,000 per permit, which is more than some drivers paid and less than others.
“That is why we would like to sit down with representatives of the drivers and permit-holders to negotiate an agreement so no driver is left in a situation, for example, of bankruptcy,” Legault told reporters in Repentigny, Que.
However, the drivers argue all of their permits were valued at $1.3 billion before the arrival of Uber.
— with files from The Canadian Press