ATOOL hoping for certification of $1.7-billion class action early in new year
by Mike Beggs
The City of Toronto’s Review of the 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw is reportedly forthcoming this spring. And – after a recent Council directive – it will now include consideration of mandatory driver training for both taxi and Private Transportation Company (PTC) drivers.
But, Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg says it’s “too late” for the cab industry to wait on legislative change at city hall – because, he alleges, Uber has already taken much of the equity out of the taxi business over the past five years.
He’s one of three claimants in the proposed $1.7-billion class action suit against the City, and sits on the steering committee of the new group All Taxi Owners and Operators Ltd. (ATOOL), which is driving this action (represented by Michael Binetti of the law firm Affleck Greene McMurtry).
On August 10, they filed a Statement of Claim in Ontario Superior Court. With their business cut in half or more by Uber and Lyft, and their plate and rental values all but destroyed, ATOOL alleges the City has reneged on a “social contract” struck up with them decades ago, allowing Uber to push through its own licensing model (which includes open entry and virtual self-regulation), and “put public safety at risk” through the watered-down regulations in the new bylaw.
However, the City wants the legal action dismissed. In its’ Statement of Defence, Toronto Legal maintains the City, “is not, and has never been, liable to compensate licensees for alleged impacts of regulatory changes” (citing the Negligence Act, and the City of Toronto Act).
Eisenberg doesn’t expect a Justice to rule on this matter until mid-January, or the start of February.
“The biggest problem is the City’s not cooperating, and I never expected they would. It’s all dollars and cents, where they make the most money. Why should they be interested in taxis?” he asks. “The City won’t accept anything. Their answer is die, or go away.
“But what happens when everybody turns their license back into the City, and are not paying their renewals? Are they all going to the Licensing Tribunal?”
With monthly lease rates down to nominal amounts (if you can even find someone to take on a lease), and a plate recently changing hands for just $22,000, he says support for the class action is mushrooming.
“It’s starting to happen. People are coming out of the woodwork,” he relates. “They’re starting to put their money where their mouth is.
“I’m getting phone calls from people with two plates or four plates, they’re getting killed. They can’t make ends meet -- and most of these plates belong to their parents. Two of my three plates are now on the shelf. I have no money coming in (from them).”
But digging in for what could be a lengthy, pricey court battle, he reiterates the need for owners, and industry members at large, to throw their financial support behind this action.
Also on the ATOOL steering committee, iTaxiworkers Association director Mohammed “Reza” Hosseinion agrees, “the main thing is getting the message out” about what might be the industry’s “last fight” for justice.
“Everybody’s asking what’s happening. We need to generate money. People should start supporting us, they shouldn’t sit back,” he says.
Down the road, Hosseinioun hopes ATOOL can become a dues paying association, with elections.
“We are thinking we will go to all of the associations asking them to shut down, and join ATOOL,” he relates.
“(All of this) chaos happened because there is a fracture in the industry. In my opinion, we’ve got to come together.”
But even with conditions this terrible, he finds, “We’ve got some people sitting on the fence.”
And just how bad is business now?
“You don’t want to hear,” he says. “It’s Christmas time, and it’s unbelievable how long we are sitting on the stands. Even in the rush hour, nobody takes a taxi anymore.”