It will be a busy month for Transport Minister Robert Poëti.
By the end of the fall session of the National Assembly, Poëti has promised to make major changes to the taxi industry, improve safety for cyclists, and hold public hearings on his plan to change the governance structure for public transit in the Montreal region.
The taxi industry and Uber
In August, Poëti invited owners of taxi companies to recommend changes to the industry, regulated by the province’s Bureau de Transport, which sets fees that taxis are permitted to charge.
Their recommendations include:
- Improving training to make taxi drivers better ambassadors for the city;
- Adopting a code of ethics, which would be applied to all taxi drivers;
- Obliging independent taxi drivers to become part of a taxi company in order to enforce the code of ethics and have better supervision;
- Mandating a private company to conduct criminal background checks on all taxi drivers;
- Allowing taxi drivers to provide adapted transport and offer group taxi services, so people can share a ride and a fare;
- Developing an app, and work to ensure there is a larger fleet of electric vehicles.
Poëti said recently his department has launched several pilot projects to test some of these changes. They include having a mobile application to call and pay for cabs, allowing taxis to share lucrative taxi licences if they drive with fully electric cars (because some would be unavailable while they are charging) and allowing taxis to pick up people outside the zones for which they are licensed if they drop someone off outside their zones.
Martine Ouellet, the Parti Québécois critic for transport issues, said the minister isn’t moving quickly enough to stay ahead of Uber, the ride-sharing application that allows drivers to use their personal cars to give people lifts for money with a service called Uber X. Ouellet said Uber X, which expanded to Laval and Longueuil last week, is causing taxi drivers to lose money. While Poëti has called the service illegal, because it allows drivers to operate as taxi drivers without having to purchase expensive licences or pay for the proper insurance, Ouellet said he has not done enough to crack down on the service.
She said the minister should increase penalties for illegal transportation. So far this year, the city of Montreal’s Taxi Bureau has seized 400 cars for illegal transportation. Most incur fines of $500, and then must pay about $1,000 to get their cars out of an impound lot. Uber is providing a lawyer to challenge the fees in court. Individual fines have not yet come before a judge.
“We should look at giving demerit points for people, and we should be holding on to their cars for longer,” she said. “If people can lose their licences for this, maybe it will finally stop.”
Changing the rules of the road for cyclists
Before the fall session ends, Poëti also promised to change Quebec’s Highway Safety Code to improve safety for cyclists. The code has not been updated in about 20 years. Because of that, it is still legal for cyclists to ride while talking on cellphones or listening to music.
The lobby group Vélo Québec and the city of Montreal have both submitted recommendations to the minister for changes they would like to see.
- Putting the onus on drivers to watch out for cyclists.
- Allowing ‘Idaho stops’ or rolling stops at stop signs, but not at red lights, and allowing cyclists to cross at pedestrian walk signs.
- Doing away with the obligation for cyclists to ride on the extreme right side of the road to reduce the risk of being hit by an opening car door.
- Permitting cyclists to ride between two lanes of traffic, and even on sidewalks in some cases.
- Stiffer fines, but no demerit points for cyclists, and stiffer fines for motorists who hit cyclists with a door.
- Defining which modes of transportation can use bike lanes.
- Prohibiting the use of cellular phones and earphones while riding.
- Prohibiting riding a bike under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
- Permitting cyclists to ride side-by-side when space allows.
- Continuing to make it optional for cyclists to wear helmets. Laws requiring helmets in other jurisdictions have resulted in fewer overall cyclists on the road, the city says.
- Revisiting the law on reflectors and lights to make cyclists more visible.
- Changing the rule on brakes to permit newer types of braking systems.
Anne-Catherine Couture, a spokesperson for Poëti, said the minister still intends to table a bill about cyclist safety before the National Assembly breaks for the holidays.
New public transit agencies
On Thursday, Poëti tabled Bill 76 to take decisions of planning public transit projects out of the hands of provincial politicians. Two new governing bodies will plan and operate public transit in the Montreal area, and answer directly to the Montreal Metropolitan Community. The new structures mean the end of the Agence métropolitaine de transport, and several small agencies that provide bus services in the suburbs. The Société de transport de Montréal, the Société de transport de Laval and the Réseau de transport de Longueuil will continue to exist.
Poëti said the bill will be open to public hearings in the next few weeks, so members of the public can submit briefs and recommend changes.