Plaintiff in proposed billion dollar law- suit fingers Mayor Tory for Uber fiasco
by Mike Beggs
He’s one of three plaintiffs in the proposed $1.7-billion class action suit filed by Toronto taxi owner/operators against their city. And while this action still requires certification, Sukhvir Thethi is optimistic about its prospects, “because it’s very clear to me the City of Toronto did nothing to stop Uber X when they were operating outside the bylaw from 2014 to 2016.”
“There’s no one to blame but (Mayor) John Tory,” he alleges. “He let Uber run freely, and during that time the whole taxi industry was dying.”
Also a psychotherapist, Thethi has heretofore managed to balance out his two careers. But now he finds his part-time taxi gig verging more towards full-time, to cover his expenses. He’s out there eight hours a day, six days a week.
“It worked well in the past. But the last year has been terrible,” he says. “I used to be a cruiser downtown. But now there are no pickups on the street and I’m stuck at the Island Airport, Union Station, or around the hotels.”
“I’m a minimalist. I’m managing my life. I look for food sales. I look for clothes sales.”
A native of India, Thethi started driving cab in 1995, and received his plate in 2002.
He was one of five drivers to take part in a three-day Hunger Strike outside Toronto City Hall in December of 2015, in efforts to convince the City to shut down Uber. During this peaceful protest, they were subjected to heavy pressure from security officers at Nathan Phillips Square, who forced them to take down their tent the first night (and sleep in sleeping bags on the concrete), and then woke them up at midnight every night .
“The thing I learned, I’m from a democratic country, and I thought the democratic system here would be allowing us freedom of expression and movement in a peaceful manner. But that wasn’t the case,” he comments.
Since then, the bottom has fallen out of the taxi business – with plate values plummeting from $380,000 to $30,000, and drivers who earned $35,000 to $40,000 a year now hustling to bring home $15,000 to $20,000.
“I’d say taxi drivers are the lowest strata of society, now,” he says. “They’ve just abandoned us. They’ve made us orphans.”
Like many, he challenges the City’s position that the Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw represents a level playing field between taxis, and Private Transportation Company (PTC) cars. And while cab operators face a host of expenses, rules, and safety regulations their PTC rivals don’t, he finds most Torontonians, “don’t seem to care” about the standards of the driver or the car picking them up. Then, there’s the fact that, granted open entry to the Toronto market, Uber and other PTC’s have flooded the streets with some 70,000 cars.
In this climate, Thethi says cabbies can’t compete – and that there needs to be some changes to the bylaw, and/or financial compensation to taxi operators.
“We’re a creation of the City. We are serving the public on behalf of the City, and we’re governed by the City laws. And yet, we’re treated as an illegitimate child of the City,” he adds.