ATOOL taxi owners dig in for legal battle with the City of Toronto
by Mike Beggs
The City of Mississauga’s recent refusal of compensation for its beleaguered taxi owners has only served to bolster the conviction of their Toronto counterparts that legal action against the City is the only way to go.
Mississauga Legal stated resolutely that, under the Ontario Municipal Act, the City does not have the jurisdictional purview to provide compensation for the monstrous losses in plate and leasing values since Uber X cars first began flooding its streets in 2014.
“I could have told (the Mississauga owners that). In fact, we did tell them. Why waste your time,” says Toronto plate-owner Andy Reti, a steering committee member for All Taxi Owners and Operators Ltd. (ATOOL), the group pushing a class action against the City of Toronto on behalf of the city’s plate owners.
When asked if this May 15 Mississauga General Committee vote adds weight to their course of action, Reti responds, “It doesn’t add to it. (Legal action) is the only solution. There is no weighing out.”
The recent breakdown in the relationship between Mississauga and its cab industry belies the city’s longstanding reputation as one of Canada’s most progressive and democratic taxi regulators (through its Public Vehicle Advisory Committee).
“There’s the PVAC tradition. They had an extremely well-functioning body,” Reti observes. “And most importantly, their bylaw stated unequivocally who the owner of the plate is – the owner. So what are these guys waiting for? It’s now or never.”
Fellow ATOOL steering committee member Behrouz Khamseh deems this news out of Mississauga typical of the runaround taxi operators have received from regulators across the GTA.
“My (feeling) is the government is totally 100 percent bent on destroying the taxi industry,” he alleges.
“(In Mississauga) they’re telling the owners, ‘You guys deserve compensation, but go ask the Province’. But if you go to the Province they say, ‘Did I issue any plates?’ They’re playing games here.”
For his part, Khamseh sees value in mounting some form of legal recourse for the Mississauga owners.
“I think it makes sense because it’s not just Toronto, it’s happening right across the country,” he says. “And at the end of the day, we’re going to be facing the government. The City is negligent, and the Province is negligent.”
But Reti maintains his position that in Toronto, “it’s an entirely different scenario” than in Mississauga, Ottawa, Quebec, or any other jurisdiction.
He relates that while ATOOL recently filed its “Motion Material” prior to deadline, the City had still not filed its response at press time.
“They’re over a month late in their response. Now, there apparently is some kind of negotiation between our solicitor (Michael Binetti), and the City’s Legal Department.”
Reti reasons such delays hardly matter, with a certification hearing scheduled for November.
“The City is going to do everything in their power to delay it, but justice will be done,” he states.
“We have no choice but to wait… They’re not going to move it up. What’s in it for them to move it up?”
Toronto owners are seeking damages to offset their heavy losses in plate values, leasing and business income, resulting from the negligent manner in which the City enforced the former bylaw against Uber X drivers between 2014 and 2016, and the devastating impact of the 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw which opened the floodgates for Uber X and other PTC vehicles, driving the taxi industry to the brink of collapse. They also contend the City has reneged on its decades-old promise to the industry that the plate would be their “pension” for retirement.
In its Statement of Response, the City claims it is not liable to compensate licensees for the alleged economic impact of regulatory change, nor for any decisions made regarding enforcement, or how enforcement actions were carried out.
While observing that there will be some appetite for legal action in the wake of the Mississauga decision, long-time Mississauga owner Peter Pellier is one individual with reservations about going to court, noting the legal fees could be “quite substantial”. He’s not interested unless a law firm is willing to work on a contingency basis.
“Both sides are going to drag it on for years,” he predicts. “The City will definitely appeal, if they lose.”
“Let’s say (an appeal) takes four years. Am I going to worry about a court case at age 80.”
Reti suggests taking a broader perspective.
“So what (if there’s an appeal),” he says. “They have estates don’t they?”
“I do this for my family, for my children. Am I going to allow the City to rob me and my family of my life’s work?”
He stresses he worked his share of 14 to 16 hour days behind the wheel -- with the prospect of enjoying the fruits of his “taxi drivers pension” upon hitting age 65.
“The City did not hide the fact they didn’t want the taxi plate to have value, and they tried to put the genie back in the bottle. They never hid that fact from us,” he adds.
(Their behaviour has been) disgusting, abhorrent, and there will be a day of reckoning,” he alleges. “And there’s no doubt whatsoever justice is on our side, and we will see justice. It’s a matter of time.”
After several decades in the business, City Taxi owner Avtar Sekhon tells Taxi News, “It’s hard to say it, but I can’t trust the politicians.”
“Everybody has to come out to make a living, but those days are gone,” he reports.
“From my garage I used to run 63 cars, and it’s 38 now. No drivers.”
Also on the ATOOL steering committee, Sekhon shoots down the notion of there being a level playing field under Bylaw 546, and insists that, like taxis, PTC vehicles must have proper cameras (“not dashcams”) and commercial insurance, and that all VHF vehicles go through the DOT inspection garage on Eastern Ave. Most importantly, he says a cap must be placed on the number of PTC cars.
“I’m hoping we live. We live with the hope. Thank God we are healthy, we are alive and there is food on the table. You can eat bread and water, it’s okay,” he says, with a laugh.
But he has some advice for those cabbies who refuse short runs, or take their customer on a ride to jack up the fare.
“We have to provide the proper service,” he adds. “They don’t need us. We need the customers.”