Taxi industry’s $215 million lawsuit against city finally set to be heard

More than six years after filing a $215 million class action lawsuit against the City of Ottawa, the local taxi industry will soon have its day in court.

Capital Taxi’s parent company says the city failed to take reasonable steps to protect taxi plate owners when it allowed Uber to operate in September 2016.

The case will finally go to court on January 3 and is expected to last at least seven weeks.

Jihad Alkadri has been driving a Blueline taxi in Ottawa for 35 years. He says when ride-sharing companies like Uber hit the road, it put many taxi drivers out of work.

« We couldn’t make a living anymore, » he said. « The city didn’t stop Uber from operating. They operated for two years illegally. No license, nothing. »

Taxi plates have little value

Alkadri said most of the time he works 12 hours to make ends meet, something he didn’t even have to do five years ago.

« I have to bring at least $250 a day to not break even or earn a living there, » Alkadri said.

With expensive insurance costs, auto repairs and skyrocketing gas prices, work isn’t what it used to be. On top of all that, Alkadri says the Uber takeover has rendered taxi licenses essentially worthless.

« Before 2014, taxi plate licenses were selling for $340,000. People mortgaged their homes to buy one of these licenses because it was just buying a job, basically, » a- he declared.

« Right now, I’m sorry to say it’s $7,000. Probably even less. »

JIhad Alkadri says business is gradually improving, with fewer taxi drivers on the roads and more people returning to work downtown. But he also says he has to work 12 hours a day, which was not the reality before the arrival of ride-sharing services in Ottawa. (Melanie Campeau/CBC)

This all ties into one of the lawsuit’s claims, in that the drivers have suffered significant financial loss since Uber was given the green light.

Drivers invested in the system based on regulations that existed before Uber, said Abdalla Barqawi, one of the lawyers representing the industry against the city.

This system was, in a way, their safety net, he said. But when the city passed the bylaw, it changed the landscape by allowing a free market for anyone who wants to drive.

“They paid over $300,000 for these plates,” Barqawi said. « And then literally with the snap of a finger, it was all gone. »

Abdalla Barqawi says many taxi drivers are mostly marginalized individuals who struggled to enter the industry in the first place and are now struggling to succeed with ride-sharing services that reduce their profits. (Melanie Campeau/CBC)

Includes complaint of discrimination

There is no limit to the number of Uber drivers that can operate, while the taxi industry is heavily regulated by the city, which only allows a limited number of plates on the road.

The restriction was designed to ensure taxi drivers and owners can earn a decent living, but Barqawi said the level playing field is now uneven.

« It’s a combination of loss of plate value, loss of work due to other players coming into the industry, combined with heavy regulations that still exist for taxis and don’t necessarily exist. for other companies like Uber, » Barqawi said.

For decades, the taxi industry has been primarily operated – and all of these plates are mostly owned – by people who have immigrated to Canada, racialized people and visible minorities.-Abdalla Barqawi

In an email, City of Ottawa lawyer David White said he would not comment on the lawsuit as it is still before the courts.

The city’s initial defense argued that it had no responsibility to protect the taxi industry from financial losses that may have arisen from the regulatory changes.

Additionally, the buying and selling of taxi plates « has created a speculative and artificial secondary market » in which the city has nothing to do but register the transfer of plates, the statement said.

A similar lawsuit filed against the city by the union representing licensed taxi drivers in Ottawa was dismissed in 2018. Barqawi says that while that lawsuit covers similar territory, it also includes a complaint of discrimination.

“For decades, the taxi industry has been mostly operated — and all of those plates are mostly owned — by people who have immigrated to Canada, racialized people and visible minorities,” Barqawi said.


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