Taxi owners in Mississauga and Toronto determined to have their day in court
by Mike Beggs
In the $100-million law suit they’ve just filed against their City, more than 200 Mississauga taxi plate owners are seeking to, “mitigate the gross injustice we have suffered.”
“Our losses stemmed from the illegal incursion of Uber, which operated in direct contravention of the Public Vehicle Bylaw, with impunity,” says spokesman and plate owner Peter Pellier in a press release. “Longstanding regulations, in place for decades were totally ignored, exacerbated by the City’s failure to enforce the bylaw. Given free rein, Uber quickly captured a lion’s share of the vehicle for-hire market at our considerable expense.”
The Mississauga suit follows the lead of the $1.7-billion-plus class action suit filed by Toronto owners against their City, sharing representation by lawyer Michael Binetti, who previously represented the Toronto Taxi Alliance in a court victory against the City.
“Prior to our action, we requested compensation from the City in the amount of $50,000 each – a more than reasonable amount, given the extent of our losses,” Pellier states. “While sympathetic to our plight, the City demurred, claiming their hands were tied by the provisions contained in the Municipal Act that prevented them paying any compensation, whatsoever. This left us with no choice but to sue.”
“In essence, it’s the same thrust as in the Toronto case. It’s based on negligence,” he continues. “Our situations are different, but at the end of the day it’s really the same failure of the City to do due diligence with respect to Uber -- a lack of will on the part of the City to enforce the bylaw, and also to give Uber free rein.
“We’re backing (our Toronto brothers) 100 percent, certainly from a morale standpoint. We’re in this together.”
The 200-plus Mississauga plate owners have each filed separately in this law suit, which unlike a class action does not require certification. Pellier was “flabbergasted” by this show of force.
“We have less than 500 owners (in Mississauga),” he relates. “When I found out 200 guys came forward, immediately I was in.”
In what’s a plus for Mississauga, a report by outside consultant Dan Hara & Associates recommended the “Capture Option”, under which the City would regulate Uber as a taxi company. Instead, the City launched a Transportation Network Company (TNC) pilot project, under which Uber was not only allowed to stay on the roads, but was granted unlimited access to Mississauga’s taxi market.
Under the pilot, the cab business has been torpedoed, with plate and lease values crashing to all-time lows.
“But as in Toronto, they will deny it. They won’t accept any responsibility, whatsoever,” says Pellier of the City.
“I’m still regarding this as an uphill battle, and it’s not going to be easy. Having said that, I’m optimistic. I feel we have a very good case.”
Central to their case is the magnitude of the hit taken by owners.
“They were very substantial losses, and they were totally cognizant of that,” Pellier alleges.
“Every time a plate was sold, the sale was filed with the City. They knew the plate market and the lease market was drying up precipitously. They knew all that all along, and they still would not even file a notice to Uber to cease and desist -- and they extended the pilot.”
He notes 30 cents a TNC trip is now rolling into the City, which is supposed to regulate on a Cost Recovery basis.
“And, how much regulation is Uber subjected to by the municipality?” he asks. “They have to have a license, but everything else is internal. There’s no municipal involvement whatsoever. The municipality will say it has inspectors out there, (but come on).”
As in Toronto, the Mississauga plate owners are claiming the City has, over the course of four decades, stated repeatedly that the plate would represent their “taxi driver’s pension”, and has now broken that promise.
“They’re swearing up and down, they never recognized the plate was mentioned as a pension. We will wait and see (what the courts say),” he adds. “That term was used frequently by Council.”
“Why would anybody pay $200,000 for a taxi license if they didn’t regard this as a long-term investment, and at least a portion of their pension income? That’s an awful lot of money.”
He stresses the City closely monitored the issuance of taxi plates via an issuance formula.
“The whole system was to provide prompt and efficient service to the public, and to ensure the operators could make a reasonable living.” he emphasizes. “There was always that balance, and that was always the case -- not just in Mississauga, but in every municipality.”
Ten or 20 years ago, Pellier says he would never have expected all this to happen in Mississauga, heretofore regarded as the most progressive taxi regulators in the country.
“Everybody’s angry,” he adds. “Everybody feels betrayal. That’s a very, very deep emotion.”
Outside the Port Credit Go Train station, one veteran owner/operator said he had heard about the law suit.
“But I don’t bother (joining in), because nothing is going to happen,” he told Taxi News. “The City is the bull. What is going to happen when you hit the bull?
“This is ridiculous what the City has done, but what can you do? I’ve been here 40 years in Canada and I thought I’d seen everything, good and bad times.”
A Blue & White Taxi driver, and father of four named Felix said, “It’s very tough, as you can see. I’m going back to school in September (to study Accounting).”
“I’m really mad at the City. They don’t care for us.”
Meanwhile, on August 12 a Discovery meeting was held between the City of Toronto, and the three plaintiffs in the Toronto class action suit at the courthouse at 333 Bay Street.
Plaintiffs Lawrence Eisenberg, Behrouz Khamseh, and Sukhvir Thethi were asked questions individually by City solicitor Michelle Wright. And Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Carleton Grant was also interviewed.
“I wasn’t impressed with them in the least,” Eisenberg says.
“Most of the stuff was Yes and No, you weren’t given a chance to elaborate. It’s a discovery, but until you get to court you can’t (speak your piece).
“She asked questions about my business. How many cars I have, and when I sold them? They were going after history.”
The all-important certification hearing for the class action is coming up on November 21, 22, and 23.
Long-time owner Bob Boyd feels this action launched by All Toronto Owners and Operators Ltd. has, “got them rattled a little bit”. And he believes a court victory for owners in one jurisdiction could set a precedent, snowballing into others.
“You’d think it would,” he says. “Usually, if you look at the history of Mississauga and other outlying cities, they’d always follow what Toronto did.
“It’s terrific (that Binetti is representing both Toronto and Mississauga). I think we’ve got the right man. We should have done this years ago.”
He alleges the City has been given “far too much power” by the Province under the City of Toronto Act, and that under the Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, “they want to stay out of it administratively, but they want their 30 cents a ride.”
And how dire has that made it for owners?
“People are selling. They’re getting desperate,” he relates. “Some people have sold their plates for as little as $11,000.”