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Montreal airport calls on province to crack down on ‘illegal taxis’

Daniel Killin says he once got into a fake cab in the United States and realized only too late there was no meter tracking the fare.

The driver told him he had to cough up $250, so Killin tried to get out but the child-safety locks were on and he couldn’t open the door.

“That’s why I use Uber,” said Killin, noting he always checks the driver, car description and licence plate to ensure he’s getting in the right car. “Don’t just assume.”

But fake taxis aren’t just a problem in the United States. It’s becoming a problem at the Montreal airport as well, as first reported in La Presse.

Individuals are greeting arriving travellers at the gate, offering them a ride for a fee. Meanwhile, their partner is waiting out in the car in a pickup area that is far from the designated taxi stand.

“That’s very worrisome for us, for the security of our passengers,” said Anne-Sophie Hamel, a spokesperson with the airport authority, Aéroports de Montréal (ADM).

Reports of extortion

Hamel said a few weeks ago, a passenger contacted the ADM to say they took one of these unauthorized taxis, and once on Highway 40, the driver told them they needed to pay $150 or they would get dropped off on the highway.

“That, for us, is a clear example of a bad situation that could happen,” said Hamel.

man standing
Daniel Killin says he had a scary experience in a fake taxi once and now he is extra careful. (John Ngala/CBC)

She said the Quebec government’s deregulation of the taxi industry led to this problem. Known as Bill 17, the law was adopted in 2019. It abolished the province’s costly taxi permit system while incorporating app-based ride-hailing services into provincial regulations.

The prohibition on solicitation was essentially dropped, she explained, but because Bill 17 came into effect in October 2020 — when travel was limited by the pandemic — there weren’t enough passengers to attract “illegal taxis.”

Hamel said the taxis are illegal because they don’t have a permit to operate at the airport. Last summer, with travel ramping up, so did the solicitation.

But the Montreal taxi bureau has closed its doors and the Contrôle routier Québec, a provincial agency that controls the transportation of goods and passengers, has been cracking down instead, said Hamel. Some 375 tickets were issued in the span of three months, she said.

The ADM has also hired two additional security officers dedicated entirely to the ride-sharing departure area, Hamel said. 

Meeting with transport minister

Airport security can give tickets to vehicles left unattended or illegally parked, but only the provincial agency can issue tickets for operating a taxi service without a permit, she said. Even then, the agent would have the witness the transaction, she added.

“An airport is supposed to be one of the most secure places in the world,” she said.

“Everything that is done here is done with the safety of our passengers and employees in mind. And now we have a situation that we cannot do a lot about because of the change in regulations.”

For now, the ADM is working to communicate these concerns with passengers and is planning to meet with the province’s transport minister, Geneviève Guilbault, to discuss the issue.

sign at airport
A sign at the Montreal airport warns passengers to ignore unsolicited offers for a ride and to make sure they are getting into a legitimate taxi. (John Ngala/CBC)

On Twitter Thursday, Guilbault described the situation as very worrisome.

“I am meeting with airport management today to take stock and assess possible solutions,” she said.

Hamel said the ADM wants to see ride solicitation made illegal again and to ensure that only those with the proper permit are allowed to pick people up at the airport. Simply having a Contrôle routier Québec official on site full time won’t solve the issue without stricter regulations, she said.

The ADM has had several meetings with the Transport Ministry since 2017, expressing concerns about these issues, she noted.

Until the province takes action, Hamel said passengers should be going to the designated taxi area and checking to make sure their taxi driver has been issued a permit by the airport authority.

Or if you take a ride-sharing service, like Uber, make sure to check the app to make sure you’re getting in the right car, Hamel added. The airport has signs near the exit, warning people to be vigilant about whom they accept rides from.

“What we have noticed also is there drivers here with fake Uber stickers on their car, fake taxi domes on their car,” she said. “It can seem 100 percent legit, but it’s not.”

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