Massive class action suit against City is taxi industry’s ‘last hope’
by Mike Beggs
Mounting a $1.7 billion class action suit in Ontario Superior Court, Toronto taxi owners/operators (under the banner of the Association of Taxi Owners and Operators Ltd., or ATOOL) allege the City has reneged on a “social contract” promising that their Standard plates would one day serve as their “taxi driver’s pension”.
Instead, plate owners – many of, or nearing retirement age – have seen their plate and lease values crash and burn, while the City has allowed Uber and other Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) to saturate the market with upwards of 70,000 cars, and operate under virtual self-regulation.
“I thought one day I could sell my plate and retire,” laments 42-year man Ronald Yew, with plates now down to the $30,000 to $40,000 mark.
“I already mortgaged my house. So, I’m 68 years old, and I have 20 more years at least. It’s very sad for me and everybody, but what can I do?”
One of three plaintiffs in the class action, Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg says the situation is dire, and getting worse.
“(Nobody is) making any money,” he relates. “Even if you, like myself, are retired and have a plate, you get only $400 a month for the lease, and $75 goes back on a renewal. Can you live on that, $325 a month?”
“The drivers and the fleets are basically operating the business now,” he continues. “Garages are closing down – guys that were operating for 30 or 40 years are closing shop. The guys aren’t putting cars on the road.”
A co-plaintiff in the suit, Taxi Action president Behrouz Khamseh feels the industry should also rally together and aggressively push the City for a cap on the number of PTC’s.
He notes after the taxi industry shut down France’s main arteries for three days in 2015, the country’s population of 12 million people is now served by 4,000 cabs, and just 20,000 Ubers. Countries like Italy, Germany, and Luxembourg don’t allow PTC’s at all.
“So they are fighting Uber in Europe, and they’ve been successful,” he says. “That tells me if we do the same fight in Toronto it would definitely be successful.”
Driving taxi since 1993, the suit’s third plaintiff is Ambassador Sukhvir Tethi.
He relates that where he used to drive five hours a day to cover his bills, now he’s forced to work seven to eight hours a day to get by.
“It’s very frustrating how John Tory, even before becoming Mayor said, ‘Uber is here to stay’,” he comments. “He made it possible for Uber to stay in Canada (and prosper).”
“This man is totally destroying the taxi industry,” he continues. “(Ex-Toronto Councillor) Howard Moscoe was doing it before that.”
Tethi agrees the long-suffering taxi industry needs to send a message to the City, that, “they can’t do whatever they want to do.”
“If the City is doing something wrong, we should bring it up to the court. We should have the strength to challenge the City.”
Veteran owner/operator Gerry Manley has cited a slew of unfairness, violations of statutes, and illegalities within the new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, and has campaigned for the City to rewrite the bylaw from scratch.
Nick Arvanitakis, owner of Solid One meter and camera installation shop, stands solidly behind the class action, and the potential compensation for owners.
“I don’t know if it’s too late (to salvage the industry). But I think it’s a good idea,” he tells Taxi News.
“You’re not going to get anywhere against Uber. And the fault lies with the City.”
According to Eisenberg, the City responded to ATOOL’s filing of a Statement of Claim within the allotted 30 days, and the two parties are now waiting for the case to be classified by a Judge.
Next up, ATOOL will be hosting a general meeting on October 10 at the Montecassino Banquet Hall, in efforts to drum up further support for the class action, with the group asking for a membership fee of $500 per owner.
Their solicitor, Michael Binetti, of the firm Affleck Greene McMurtry, will be at the meeting to explain the parameters of the class action. Binetti has some familiarity with the Toronto taxi industry and how it is regulated by the City, after representing the Toronto Taxi Alliance in a successful effort to block the City’s plans to impose a 2024 deadline for all Toronto cabs to be wheelchair accessible.
ATOOL leaders see no help forthcoming from Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards’ ongoing review of the Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw (2016). As such, the class action represents their last shot, and they’re urging owners to throw their financial support behind the group.
“No doubt,” says long-time owner Andy Reti. “And if we don’t get this going, we can all kiss goodbye to everything we ever worked for collectively. There will be no more winners and losers, we will all be losers.
“You have no idea the reluctance of people to put their hands into their pockets. They let a $385,000 investment go down to $30,000.”
Yew, likewise, sees little benefit coming from the Review.
“It’s possible. I think we should talk to them,” he says.
“But I don’t think it’s going to happen. If they were going to do something (to help us), they would have done it a long time ago.”