‘Ottawa’ New Taxi Union Lawsuit Accuses City of Misleading Cabbies
A lawsuit filed by Ottawa’s taxi union exactly one year after council approved a new vehicle-for-hire bylaw accuses the city of “slanting the playing field against taxicab drivers.”
“The city demonstrated a closed mind and an unwillingness to properly notify, consult and consider in an even-handed, good-faith manner, the direct consequences, and in particular, the commercial effect of its proposed changes to the taxi scheme in the City of Ottawa,” the lawsuit alleges.
The dual-licensing bylaw, which council passed on April 13, 2016, blew open the traditional taxi market to competition. Uber was operating illegally at the time, but the international ride-ordering company received a municipal “private transportation company” licence last October after the new regulatory scheme took effect Sept. 30.
The taxi union filed the lawsuit last Thursday, claiming the city’s new rules have put cabbies at a commercial disadvantage. The allegations have not been tested in court.
Taxi union president Pierre Nakhle and vice-president Nega Haile, who both own and operate cabs, have filed the legal challenge on behalf all members of the union, Unifor Local 1688.
The lawsuit points to the city’s data showing that, as of February, there were 3,000 Uber drivers in Ottawa and that the company provided 1.4 million rides since it became street legal last fall. The lawsuit claims at least 80 per cent of those rides represent fares taken from cabbies.
There are 1,192 taxis in Ottawa. City hall controls the number of taxi licences, but the licensing requirements for taxis and private transportation companies are different.
Cabbies each need to buy municipal permits and adhere to service standards, and if they don’t comply, their permits could be pulled by the city, the lawsuit says.
“Taxicab drivers have accepted the city’s restrictions on their freedom and ability to seek efficiencies and to innovate in exchange for the assurance of a limit on the number of taxi plates,” the lawsuit says, citing the six-figure values of taxi plates on the open market under the old regulatory system.
While the city largely left the longtime taxi regulations intact, it “unfairly and unreasonably discriminated” against cabbies by not requiring private transportation companies to play by the exact same rules, the lawsuit says.
Citing provisions in the Ontario Municipal Act, the lawsuit alleges council unfairly exempted private transportation drivers from licensing fees and other costs borne by cabbies.
“The city acted in bad faith in the sense of being less frank and transparent about its plans,” the lawsuit alleges, claiming that cabbies were promised a “level playing field.”
“However, the exact opposite resulted from the city’s taxi review,” the lawsuit alleges. “Taxicab drivers were misled.”
The lawsuit also complains about the “inadequate” length of the public comment period after staff published the recommended rule changes.
The union isn’t asking the court for monetary compensation, other than for the costs of the legal action itself.
City spokespeople weren’t available for comment on Monday, which was a statutory holiday for city workers.
It’s the second lawsuit related to the city’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw.
A proposed class-action lawsuit led by Marc Andre Way, co-owner of Metro Taxi, is claiming $215 million in damages against the city. In turn, the city defended its decision to change the regulatory system and accused the taxi industry of being slow to compete with competitors like Uber.