ATOOL gears up for November certification hearing into $1.7 billion class action against City of Toronto
by Mike Beggs
A plaintiff in the taxi plate owners’ proposed $1.7-billion-plus class action suit against the City accuses Toronto Legal of “dragging its feet” in addressing this legal challenge.
This came after the City was well over a month overdue in responding to the affidavit filed by the owners. And according to Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg, “something finally came in” at the end of June; but the group is choosing not to comment on the contents of this submission from Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Carleton Grant.
“They’re doing what we expected them to do, they’re going to drag it on and on,” he alleges. “They’re (only now) starting to react, because our lawyer (Michael Binetti) sent them a letter.”
“They’re not going to cooperate. That’s how they operate.”
Long-time owner Andy Reti adds tersely, “They do whatever they want. As usual.”
ATOOL has an August court date coming up (where a “discovery” will be done on the three plaintiffs, Eisenberg, Behrouz Khamseh, and Sukhvir Thethi), before a pivotal certification hearing is held in mid-November.
The group is trying to ramp up support amongst the industry’s 4,500 plate owners, many of whom are now seriously struggling to get by in their retirement years. Meanwhile, Uber, and Lyft are only tightening their stranglehold, with approximately 90,000 cars now on the road.
“Everybody’s burying their head in the sand. They figure it’s going to go away,” Eisenberg says. “It’s not going anywhere.”
“They’re panicking, and they’re starting to sell (their plates). They figure something is better than nothing. They’re getting $12,000 to $18,000 for the plate, and $110 to $120 on a monthly lease. It’s not worth them being in the business.”
ATOOL alleges the City knowingly allowed Uber to operate outside the bylaw for three years, while diverting a massive amount of business away from traditional taxis. And they claim the City has reneged on a longstanding promise that the plate would serve as their “taxi driver’s pension”.
At Peter’s Garage, owner Peter Mandronis says, “We’re just trying to survive, that’s all, trying to do the best we can. Nobody is making any money. Everybody’s operating less cars.”
“I have drivers who have been with me for 25 and 30 years, and I’m trying to help them in any way possible,” adds the 51-year-old industry veteran. “But I have to pay insurance, service the cars, pay dispatch fees, and change the brakes.”
Reti says the numbers out of City hall speak volumes, and reinforce ATOOL’s position that this legal action is “absolutely the last shot” for owners to gain compensation for their losses.
“There are (about) 90,000 Uber and Lyft cars, compared to 5,500 taxis and limos. How can you compete?” he asks. “And as an added bonus, they can charge half the price.”
“It’s a dead industry. It’s no longer dying.”
Owners have not only seen the resale value of plates crash to nominal amounts, the monthly rental value many of them were relying on is now next to nothing.
In Reti’s case, this has also impacted his 40-year-old daughter who suffers from a permanent disability.
“I transferred a plate to her a number of years ago, and this was her income,” he relates. “Try making an income when it’s sitting on the shelf.”
And now to make matters worse, Recommendation 63 of the recent VHF Bylaw Review Final Report proposes that a plate cannot be renewed unless a car is attached to it – effectively forcing plates off the shelf when there is little or no business for them.
“So, now I have to put out a $30,000 expenditure, and still not be able to provide any income,” he adds. “This is nothing but evil.”
Khamseh experienced another sad sign of the times, while sitting outside the Rebel night club on Cherry Street at around 7:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday night.
“It was raining cats and dogs, and all of these people were coming out of the club, and they didn’t want to take a taxi. Everybody was looking for Uber,” he laments. “Even when they’re surge pricing down there, people flood to the Ubers.”
He reasons that most of these people are early twenty-somethings using a credit card for the ride home.
“The credit card may not be theirs’,” he suggests. “They’re a bunch of kids. They (probably) party and spend all their money, and they may be using their parents’ card to get home. They don’t care.”
After 44 years on the road, West End driver Bruce Jesson opted to retire last year and sell his Ambassador plate.
“I’m just glad to be out,” he tells Taxi News. “I haven’t driven since last August. I hear it’s even worse.”
“I’m glad to be out of the traffic. That’s the biggest killer.”
Of the Millenials willing to take a late night ride home in a PTC -- despite the disturbing number of sexual assaults, and murders committed by rideshare drivers, and “fake” rideshare drivers alike in cities around the world -- he reasons, “When you’re young, you’re bulletproof.”
“They’re cheaper than us -- they’re not better than us,” he adds. “I’ve talked to people who take Uber, and all they do is complain about how they don’t know where they’re going, and drive too fast.”
Similarly, in Mississauga, where City lawyers recently shot down a request for compensation of $50,000 per owner – and plate values are down to a paltry $6,000 – long-time plate-holder Ed Newton says, “I’ve washed my hands of the whole business.
“I had two plates and was getting $1,000 a month, and all of a sudden that disappeared,” he says. “You adjust your life. What can you do?
“And, what about the poor guy who bought his plate for $200,000?”
He stresses that he didn’t create the system, “and they encouraged me to put my name on the priority list.”
Newton is a native of London, England, where taxi drivers are highly respected for attaining “The Knowledge”. But in Canada, he says, “no one has any interest in taxi drivers -- and that was long before Uber came in.”
“The writing is on the wall,” he continues. “It’s all over North America. What can you do about it?”
Having led a previous court action against the City in the early 2000’s (challenging the creation of the Ambassador taxi program) Eisenberg believes this is the owners’ best shot to date at a victory in court. ATOOL cites plenty of unfairness, and “illegalities” in the 2016 implementation of the Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw.
They allege that when decisions were made to license Uber, “The City failed to protect the various segments of the Toronto taxi industry, specifically Taxi Plate Holders, and the public, and was thus, negligent,” reads its Statement of Claim, dated July 13, 2018.
“The City improperly preferred the interests of Private Transportation Companies without due regard for the interests of Taxi Plate holders, contrary to the 2012 direction from City Council that they do so,” it continues. “In fact, City staff’s preference was to destroy the traditional taxi industry in favour of Private Transportation Companies, and they undertook actions that would achieve that end.”