'Constant hammering from two levels of government': Beck Taxi’s Kristine Hubbard
The Montreal airport has an illegal taxi problem, says its regulatory authority, which is calling for a crackdown.
Since January, nearly 400 tickets for infractions related to vehicles operating without a proper permit have been issued, according to the Aéroports de Montréal (ADM).
“Sometimes we see taxis with fake Uber stickers on their cars, or even we've seen cars with fake taxi domes,” said airport authority spokeswoman Anne-Sophie Hamel.
Other incidents involve legitimate taxis that don’t have a permit to operate at the airport, Hamel said, or freebooters that don’t even bother to dress up as a cab or ride-hailing service.
Bloated prices, aggressive solicitation and even threats make up some of the concerns.
“What we see and what we hear from passengers is that they go to them and they take their luggage almost without even asking,” Hamel said.
These drivers tend to target international arrivals, who may be less familiar with the airport and local taxi protocols, she said.
“Once they were up on the Metropolitan (Expressway), the driver told them that they needed to give $150 right away or they would get kicked out of the taxi on the highway,” she said.
“That's very, very worrisome for us.”
Illegal taxis are not as big a problem at Canada’s three other biggest airports — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — they said via email. Peel Regional Police, which patrols Toronto's Pearson airport, said it received four calls in the first three months of the year related to "scoopers" — unlicensed taxi drivers or chauffeurs who seek to pick up airport passengers.
The issue in Quebec arises from legal changes ushered in by a law known as Bill 17. Passed in 2019, it wove ride-hailing services such as Uber and Eva into the province’s regulatory framework while scrapping its pricey taxi permit system and lifting a ban on asking potential passengers if they're looking for a ride — “solicitation.”
The law took effect in October 2020, but the consequences only became apparent recently as the travel industry began to ramp back up after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted.
The problem persists in part because of the airport authority’s minimal enforcement powers and a discrepancy over which taxis are considered illegal under the new rules, Hamel said.
In cases where non-permitted taxi drivers are suspected, she said the rules restrict the ADM’s deterrents to ticketing for incidents such as illegal parking or unattended cars.
“Because there was a change in regulations, it's not prohibited to do solicitation, so our safety patrol team cannot intervene. The only one that can intervene as of now is Contrôle routier Québec, which is a subdivision of the SAAQ” — the province’s Crown corporation in charge of driver and vehicle licensing — Hamel said.
“And there's not much they can do — they have to witness the transaction,” she said. “They don't have a presence at the airport 24-7, but the airport is a 24-7 location ... with 500,000 taxi rides per year.”
Controle routier Québec (CRQ) countered this explanation, saying it does not need to see money change hands before it swoops in.
“We can intervene when a person offers a service without having the required authorizations,” CRQ spokesman Gino Desrosiers said in French in an email.
However, the CRQ considers an authorized taxi or Uber driver legal and can pick up customers at the airport, regardless of whether they have an airport permit or "solicit" passengers inside the terminal.
“According to our discussions with ADM representatives, the insistent solicitation of certain drivers — considered illegal by ADM, but not necessarily by CRQ — is the main element to be addressed," Desrosiers said.
In other words, Montrealers authorized as taxi or ride-hailing drivers but without a permit from the airport authority will not be in violation of the rules, in the eyes of the agency — despite the ADM's concerns.
The airport authority has called on the province to crack down on what it deems illegal taxis, with Hamel saying a new law would likely have to be drawn up.
In a March 23 tweet, Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault said the situation at the Montreal airport is “of concern.”
“I am meeting with airport management today to take stock and assess possible solutions,” she said in French.
To obtain a permit to operate at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, applicants need to meet various criteria, including sufficient trunk space, mechanical checks and a criminal background check.
“You can understand a passenger that has been on a 10-hour flight, is tired, and someone that comes to him and says, ‘Oh, I can give you a ride home for 25 bucks,’ it can be an interesting offer but the safety and security is not there,” Hamel said.
For now, she is advising travellers to go either to the designated taxi area on the arrivals level or, if using a ride-hailing service such as Uber, make sure that they head to the designated area on the departures level and get into the car selected by the app.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2023.