POLITICS

Montreal taxi bureau has seized 40 vehicles from UberX drivers since early March

04/27/2015 05:39 EDT | Updated 07/31/2015 09:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The City of Montreal's taxi bureau is cracking down on ride-sharing service UberX and has seized 40 vehicles from drivers in recent weeks, prompting the company to say it will fight back in court.

UberX is a service offered as part of Uber's car-sharing smartphone app that links clients to drivers in privately owned vehicles, without a taxi licence, to provide rides at prices lower than typical cab fares.

The city and the province consider UberX a form of illegal transport and Montreal's taxi bureau has been hitting back since early March.

"We consider this a form of illegal transport because these people don't have a permit that allows them to transport people," Alain Rochon, director of the bureau, said in an interview Monday. "These people are contravening the law."

Rochon said a first seizure includes a $350 fine as well as costs associated with the impounding that bring the total to about $1,000.

Montreal is just the latest battleground where skirmishes over the service have spilled into the courtroom.

Jean-Nicolas Guillemette of Uber's Quebec branch said the company is contesting the tickets and vehicle seizures.

"For every driver who gets their car impounded, we pay for everything: we rent them a car, we pay for the fine, the impounding and the lawyers because we feel those drivers are within their rights to offer rides to Montrealers," Guillemette said.

Uber allows cab drivers who subscribe to pick up additional fares they might not be able to get through a typical taxi dispatch firm. Other services include the UberX platform, which controversially allows unlicensed drivers to offer rides using their personal vehicles.

UberX launched in several Canadian cities in 2014 and is currently present in Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax. It has shuttered in Calgary and Vancouver.

Guillemette calls the exercise by Montreal a waste of taxpayer money because, in the long run, he believes operations such as Uber are here to stay. In the United States, 35 jurisdictions have adopted new rules where several firms offer web-based ride-share services.

Uber argues developing a mobile app that links customers to nearby rides qualifies it as a technology company and not a transport operation.

In Montreal alone, tens of thousands use the platform weekly, Guillemette said.

"Montreal and others should sit with us to create a new regulatory framework because at the end of the day, what we want is to create new laws around ride sharing in Montreal," he said.

Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poeti believes there's no grey zone when it comes to UberX.

"With UberX, it's totally illegal right now and when you do something illegal in front of the law, you could have a few problems," Poeti said.