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Taxi drivers hope for justice as court case over ridesharing in Ottawa begins


Ibrahim Saeed has been driving a taxi in Ottawa for 18 years, but he says it is becoming increasingly more difficult to make a living.

“Now, there is no business,” he says.

On Tuesday, just before the lunch hour, his cab was parked outside a downtown hotel.

“I started around 5:30 a.m., and until now I have only had three rides.”

Saeed says business was good until private transportation companies, such as Uber and Lyft, entered the market in 2016.

A multi-million-dollar taxi industry lawsuit against the city of Ottawa got underway in an Ottawa courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

One cab driver told CTV News, “Hopefully the city can see why we are crying… we need to go back to the drawing board.”

The $215-million class action lawsuit was launched in 2016, alleging the city did not protect drivers and the industry when ridesharing services hit city streets.

Abdalla Barqawi is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. He says, “It is a very big milestone. We have been waiting six years to go to trial and our class members, the taxi plate owners and the brokers, have suffering for the past six years, so it is a big day for them and hopefully the beginning of them getting justice.”

The lawyers representing taxi drivers in Ottawa say proceedings were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but say this day is an important step.

“The requirements that are imposed on taxis, they are more onerous than the ones on ridesharing services,” Barqawi says. “The simplest example is meter rates; those are regulated by the city for taxis, for Uber they are not. Every aspect of a taxi industry is regulated, compared to very little for companies like Uber.”

The suit also claims the city discriminated against minority taxi plate holders by failing to enforce its own bylaw and changing the bylaw to allow private transportation companies.

“The main part of the case is the discrimination claim. Essentially it relates to the makeup of the taxi industry,” says Barqawi. “Anyone in Ottawa who has taken a cab knows that we are dealing with people who are mainly immigrants, largely marginalized, and they come to Canada, and they work hard to raise enough money to invest in the taxi industry, and the city has placed a structure that would incentivize putting the money in to buy plates.”

Barqawi says drivers invested in the system, and purchased a licence plate, based on regulations before private transportation companies like Uber arrived in Ottawa. He says when the city allowed private transportation companies to operate, it changed the landscape of the industry and devalued the taxi licence plate. Many drivers experienced severe financial loss.

“Some of them have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to (buy a licence), some of them have had to re-finance their homes to do that, and all of a sudden when companies like Uber came in, the city changed course and devalued these plates,” says Barqawi. “The result of that is, these plate owners have to work harder to make the same amount of money just to survive and their investment is gone, and their retirement plans are gone, because the plates that they bought are really the equivalent to their pension.”

Barqawi says the industry wants remedies and compensation for the “damages suffered” and “recognition that they have been wronged by the city.”

According to the city of Ottawa, there are currently 2,122 licenced taxicab drivers in the capital.

The city would not comment on the proceedings Tuesday.

“As the matter is currently before the courts, the City of Ottawa is unable to provide any further comments at this time,” city Solicitor David White said in a statement.

CTV News reached out to Uber for comment but has not heard back.

Proceedings will continue Wednesday at the Ottawa courthouse on Elgin Street. Top Stories

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