ATOOL awaits word on certification of $1.7 billion suit against the City
by Mike Beggs
Having filed its’ statement of claim, and held a general meeting in efforts to rally support, All Taxi Owners and Operators Ltd. (ATOOL) must now be prepared to wait for an Ontario Superior Court Justice to determine if its’ $1.7-billion class action suit is worthy of certification.
Many industry leaders – and ATOOL’s lawyer Michael Binetti – believe the industry may have its’ best case ever against the City of Toronto. But meanwhile, the losses continue to mount with nearly 70,000 Private Transportation Vehicles (mostly Ubers) cutting into the taxi business every day.
But while there has been no action in the courts, the owners’ cause gained valuable publicity through interviews with CBC and Zoomer radio, and The Toronto Star in November.
First, one of the suit’s three plaintiffs, Lawrence Eisenberg was interviewed by CBC’s Metro Morning. At 73, and after 55 years in the Toronto cab business, he says he’d be lucky to get anything for his three plates at this point.
“(They’ve taken away) my retirement fund,” he told CBC. “I stopped driving at 65, and right now it’s at next to nothing.”
According to Eisenberg, the drivers out there, “are feeling it as bad, or even worse than the owners, and we have to cooperate together.”
On Zoomer radio, long-time plate owner and ATOOL steering committee member Andy Reti was interviewed by Bob Kimsic on an edition of the series, “Fight Back”.
He alleged that because the City failed to crack down on PTC’s when they first arrived in Toronto -- and because the value of the Standard plate has been virtually wiped out -- owner/operators “have no choice” but to go the legal route.
“We’re almost at the end of the road,” he told Kimsic. “We’re desperate and we have no one to blame but the City.”
“(The City has done) everything in their power to destroy us. For years, they were threatening deregulation. For years, they were telling us, ‘If you don’t like what we’re doing take us to court.’ Well, we are taking them to court.”
A caller named Don threw his support behind the taxi plate owners.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with (Mayor John) Tory. Why doesn’t he solve the problem with Uber?” he asked.
“I support you. We will always take taxis.”
Reti said he truly appreciated the support.
“Uber is at the moment generating a tremendous amount of money for the City of Toronto -- $5 to $8 million a year. So, you can imagine where the sentiment lies,” he said in the interview. “Who needs taxis when Uber can do the job at half the price, while the City generates 10 times the money?”
In a letter to the editor in this month’s Taxi News, Reti said ATOOL is in “desperate need” of broader financial support from plate owners, and industry members at large, in order to take the class action forward.
Under Toronto’s Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, he told Zoomer radio, “(PTC’s) have the best of both worlds, and the taxi industry is fighting with two hands tied behind their back.”
“It’s supposed to be a level playing field. When there’s 68,000 Uber drivers, come on man, wake up,” agrees Maple Leaf Taxi manager Paul Iordanidi.
He says it has never been worse out there.
“If this continues, there won’t be a taxi industry in a year or two,” he warns. “Look at the price of leases. We’re losing cars, because we are getting nobody to drive, or they get their own car and drive for Uber, or Lyft. The ones who stay, they’re always negotiating.”
Still, there has been pushback in cities like New York (which has imposed a year-long cap on PTC’s), Vancouver (where the province is proposing tougher standards for PTC’s under new regulations) and Ottawa (where a class action has already been certified).
Could there by a snowball effect?
“All we need is one successful suit. Then it gets down to the point, cities are better off to regulate rather than settling law suits,” offers Mark Sexsmith, manager of Mississauga’s All-Star Taxi.
“We’ve already got the precedent of Quebec forgoing law suits, and being proactive (by awarding compensation to taxi operators).”