MONTREAL - Taxi companies sputtering about the cab-hailing application Uber need to improve their quality and services if they want to retain clients, says the head of Quebec’s largest fleet.
“It’s fine to criticize but we have to go further and see what’s behind this,” said Dominique Roy, the head of Montreal-based Taxi Diamond.
“It’s true that in many cases we are an industry that moves very little, or at such a slow speed that the new modes of transport are going to take hold and pose a risk to the industry. What we have to do is give our clients what they are looking for.”
Uber, the California tech company whose smartphone service allows taxi searchers in 46 countries to connect directly with available licensed drivers, has shaken the traditional cab industry by cutting out the go-between dispatchers who take a cut of each fare.
More recently it has launched UberX, which allows drivers without a taxi licence connect with people in need of a lift at prices it says are about 40-per-cent lower than regular cab fares.
Cities that risk losing valuable revenue from the highly regulated taxi industry are also looking at how to clamp down on Uber. In Toronto, the company has been hit with municipal bylaw charges for licensing offences, and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has declared UberX to be illegal.
But beyond the legality of Uber, the city licensing requirements that the company flouts and the frustration that the app has caused, Roy said the service has cashed in on the demands of passengers for more efficient transportation.
That’s particularly true in Montreal, where cab drivers regularly refuse to accept anything but cash payments.
“What they’re looking for is ease, technology and easy modes of payments in all the cars,” he said. “They don’t want to argue with the driver because he refuses to take a credit card.”
Taxi Diamond, which is part of the Canadian Taxicab Operators Group along with Toronto’s Royal Taxi and companies in Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, announced a suite of new measures Wednesday that it hopes will win back customers. Included in the announcement is a ban on cars older than three years in its fleet, an increased number of hybrid vehicles and mandatory criminal background checks on all drivers seeking to renew their permits.
The latter pledge may have been prompted in part by a recent spate of sexual assaults occurring in Montreal cabs, which led to police warning young, inebriated women from travelling alone in taxis — a warning Roy said was both prejudicial and unwarranted.
Still, in at least one case from March of a Toronto cabbie stripped of his licence for his aggressive behaviour and use of sexual profanities around female passengers, one woman testified she was so afraid that she will now only uses Uber because it provides a photograph of the driver, information about the car and tracks the trip using GPS.
Taxi Diamond’s most revealing pledge is an improved smartphone application that will mimic Uber, offering mobile payments by credit card. Roy said the revamped app has been in the works since February, but it is being rushed to completion.
The company has not, however, come up with a plan to cut the costs to taxi passengers, which would leave some of the advantage to Uber at least until city officials in Canada and around the world come up with a way to crack down on the popular service or drag it onto the right side of the law.