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What It's Like To Be A Cab Driver In Montreal

Insights into the city's taxi industry.
What It's Like To Be A Cab Driver In Montreal

It's a very interesting time to be a cab driver in Montreal. Due to the dawn of Uber, lines have been drawn in the sand, with the taxi industry pitting itself against the ride-hailing app.

And we, the consumers, are caught in the middle. To be honest, most of us side with Uber, thanks to its rather positive public identity and modern service conveniences, like paying directly to your credit card.

But underrepresented is the individuals who make up the taxi industry, with their personal stories, plights, and opinions overshadowed by protests and large public demonstrations.

Hoping to shed some light on what it's like to be a cab driver in Montreal, and how Uber has affected the industry, one Montreal taxi industry professional decided to tell the world his story.

Hosting an AMA on reddit, the rather successful individual who has been in the taxi business for over 20 years, now holding his own taxi permit and operates his own fleet of taxis, touched upon the many elements that make up the Uber debate, while also relating what its like to be a cab driver in the city of Montreal.

The taxi permit holder has a pretty inspiring story, which you can read in full at the original AMA, and had some incredibly interesting points to make on the mechanics of the taxi industry. His thoughts on Uber were equally on point, sticking to the facts rather than a skewed (and overemotional) perspective.

Below you can find some of the AMA's most fascinating questions and answers, most of which touch upon Uber and the issues that plague Montreal's taxi industry. Certain points have been paraphrased and edited for the sake of clarity, but the concrete facts remain untouched.

And yes, this is pulling directly from a reddit AMA (again, you can read the full thing here) but this is information more people need to see to fully understand the Uber debate here in Montreal, so go ahead and "call us out" if you like.

What are the differences between drivers, permit holders, taxi companies, Uber, and UberX drivers?

  • Drivers: They pay weekly rent to permit holders (if they don’t own one). Full amount of fares are theirs to keep. No overhead/insurance/maintenance...etc. They have cost of gas, and $300/biannual fee for taxi license renewal (criminal record, info and update course)
  • Permit Holders: They own and maintain the cars. Pay for insurance, license plate..etc. The Taxi Bureau does not protect the permit holders from losses caused by drivers with bad debts, parking tickets, use of toll bridges, and reckless driving. Permit Holders can also be drivers, if they so wish.
  • Taxi Companies: The intermediary between customers and drivers. Diamond, Hemlock, Co-op, Champlain, Atlas..etc. They are registered and regulated. Their role includes: dispatching calls to taxi drivers, maintaining GPS, enforcing a license fee, paying for private taxi stands, setting policies for drivers, maintaining debit/credit card payments.
  • Uber: Connects riders to existing licensed taxi drivers, Uber takes 20% of fare, cab drivers 80%. Uber is not a taxi company, not registered or regulated. Does not file income tax in Quebec.
  • UberX: Owned by Uber, connects riders to any average person. Lower prices than taxis. Encourages surge pricing. Cars are not regulated. No commercial insurance.

Can anyone get a taxi permit in Montreal? What fees must a permit hold pay?

There are about 4400 permits in Montreal. The city sets it as per supply & demand. Anyone is allowed to purchase, however there are strict rules and regulations to be followed.

Here is a breakdown of mandatory fees for permit holders:

  • $315/biannually: taxi work permit (regulation upgrade course, criminal record check, pocket number fee).
  • $800/annually: taxi license plate fee.
  • $140/annually: taxi permit renewal.
  • $2000/annually: 2-way insurance (with good record, otherwise higher).
  • $4800/annually: association fee (payment to taxi companies; Diamond, Atlas..etc).
  • $160/annually: mechanical inspection CAA.
  • $80/annually: meter inspection.
  • $15000: Average cost of used car (will last about 4 years as a taxi). Car must be no older than 3 years (recently changed from 5 years).
  • $300: Taxi equipment installation (meter, dome light, GPS) Permit Cost.
  • $170,000 (approx.): amount to purchase a taxi permit today (used to be around 220K, 2 years ago).
  • $300/month: taxi maintenance and repair.

What is an “association fee?”

A permit holder who can also be a driver pays $13/day in association fee to the taxi company. No matter how much the driver makes during his shift, that’s the maximum fee the association takes due to competition with other taxi companies.

However, Uber takes 20% on each fare with no maximum limit. This means in one day where a driver makes $200, the taxi company takes $13 of that, but uber takes $40

Do you believe it would be better to have the industry regulate itself instead of having mandatory regulation? Would the taxi industry be more successful if it functioned more like Uber in this respect?

Ok so regarding deregulation and Uber:

An unregulated taxi industry is harmful to both drivers and riders. If you look at the history of the taxi industry, you will see time and time again deregulation has failed.

This happened in many cities in North America both during the depression and 70-80’s. The results were:

  • Taxi fares increased, quality of cars decreased
  • Accidents and age of cars increased
  • Price inflation & exploitation
  • Traffic increased
  • Air quality decreased
  • Drivers did not make living wage (supply/demand)
  • Accessibility to transportation decreased (low-density areas)

Without permits and regulation, the city will lose its control over an essential public service.

I am not anti-innovation or anti-competition, in fact I welcome it because it better improves the system for me. The problem with Uber is that it chooses to operate outside of regulation for substantial profit and hopes to monopolize it in the future.

Uber can operate legally with the same quality of service and technology within our current regulated system.

Secondly, taxi permits do have returns. Those who are permit holders, can either drive the cars themselves, or rent them out or both.

How much profit does a taxi driver leasing their permit make at the end of the month?

On average, if they work full time 6 days a week, after rent and tax to gas, they can make about $1000/week. There is no overhead for drivers who rent the car. 10% of this includes tips.

What do you think of the negative reputation taxi drivers have? Do you think they would have an easier fight against Uber if the public didn't hate them so much?

It's not all black and white. Right now it's all about social media, which is mostly operated by the young. I'm not saying that there aren't bad drivers, but being in the industry for 20 years now, I do see some exaggeration of numbers.

Hate is a strong word. I think the public ought to be better informed of how the system works, history/reasons behind it, and the legal ways to better improve it.

So long as Uber does not break any laws, and uses registered taxis, I’m ok with it.

May I ask how do you think an app similar to Uber can be implemented in the taxi system? Do you think big taxi companies must start co-operating on an app or it can be implemented by guys like you?

It cannot be implemented by permit holders such as myself because we are not registered taxi companies. It would be illegal for me to dispatch fares whether by phone/app.

Right now they each have their own app, but in my opinion a collaboration of all taxi companies into one app would be superior and is more preferable for riders.

Many women I know refuse to take taxis alone because they have been sexually assaulted or inappropriately propositioned by drivers. Why do you think that this is apparently a widespread problem, and do you have any policies in place to alleviate it?

Misconduct/behaviour issues fall under the taxi companies, not the permit holders. This is a serious offence, with serious consequences. Each driver has a pocket number that you can see within the car. These kinds of behaviours should be reported to the taxi companies, and they are not taken lightly.

Of course, anything physical should also be reported to the police right away. Drivers with a record of bad behaviour are dismissed from taxi companies.

What are your thoughts on the new requirements for cab drivers (uniforms, opening doors, card reader)?

Mandatory card readers are good. Although uniforms don’t apply to me, I can sympathize with drivers. Technically they are self-employed and should be viewed as autonomous.

How do you feel about people hoarding or "reselling" permits, since there's a strict limit?

I rent my taxis to drivers, I don’t drive myself anymore. By law if you buy a permit, you must keep it at least one year before selling it. There is a 3 month procedure to get the permit under your name, same for selling it.

It’s not that easy, nor is it cheap. It’s not like buying/selling cars or property. Maintaining the permit comes with many costs and in my experience there have always been permits up for sale. You can apply and buy one tomorrow.

What is one of your worst anecdotes?

I have a lot of stories. The one that stands out the most was a break up of a gay couple in my car. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone cry that hard. I felt for him.

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