QUEBEC – Ride-hailing giant Uber is willing to temporarily suspend operations in Quebec in order to find common ground with the province and is prepared to offer various concessions, a company representative said Tuesday.
Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, general manager of Uber Montreal, said the U.S.-based firm would charge clients taxes on every ride — at the source — which he said would provide state coffers with about $3 million a year.
His comments came on the first day of hearings into Bill 100, which would force Uber drivers to conform to the same laws as cabbies with regard to regulations such as permits and taxes.
Uber says the bill, if enacted as is, would mean the end of the company’s operations in Quebec.
Guillemette said Uber would be willing to charge an added tax of seven cents a ride that would go to Quebec’s automobile insurance board.
Additionally, Uber is open to letting traditional taxis have exclusive access to reserved lanes, government contracts and rides hailed from the street.
Guillemette said that if Uber can sit down with the government to talk and find common ground, “we are ready to suspend our operations during that time.”
“We are showing good faith,” he told the hearing.
Transport Minister Jacques Daoust and other members of Quebec’s legislature reacted skeptically to Guillemette’s offer.
“In terms of how much taxi permits represent, it’s very marginal,” Daoust said.
Daoust noted Quebec’s taxi industry was founded on the idea of supply management and that the government enforces a system whereby people have to pay — sometimes as much as $200,000 — for a permit to drive a taxi.
He said that if the government allowed Uber to operate without buying into the permit system, the value of existing permits would erode.
“There is a large population of immigrants often more educated than the job requires, and they bought the right to work in the land that welcomed them,” he said. “The minute we add to (the existing permits) the value of their taxi licence necessarily diminishes.”
Earlier in the day, the head of a Quebec taxi lobby said Uber has the attitude of a “hardened criminal” and is stealing money from the state.
“Just watch them,” Guy Chevrette told reporters, explaining how he believes Uber will try to stall the passing of the bill. “It’s theft. Today, watch them go, with crocodile tears, like hardened criminals. They will pull out all the stops to try and waste time.”
According to Chevrette’s organization, the government has two choices: pass Bill 100, which would force Uber out of the Quebec market, or compensate all the drivers and companies that have paid for taxi licences.
He said paying back drivers could cost as much as $1.4 billion.