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Taxi industry's $215 million lawsuit against city of Ottawa heads to court this week

File photo: Blue Line Taxi (Tyler Fleming/CTV Ottawa) File photo: Blue Line Taxi (Tyler Fleming/CTV Ottawa)
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An Ottawa courtroom is the next stop this week for the taxi industry's legal fight with the city of Ottawa over the arrival of Uber and other ride-sharing services.

Members of Ottawa's taxi industry launched the $215 million class-action lawsuit in April 2016, alleging the city did not protect drivers and the industry when ride-sharing services hit city streets. 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.

Arguments in the class-action lawsuit will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m.

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Metro Taxi Ltd., co-owner Marc Andre Way and Iskhak Mail, with the lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of taxi plate owners and brokers.

According to the taxi industry, the class-action lawsuit alleges three things:

  • The city of Ottawa was negligent in its enforcement of the former Taxi Bylaw
  • By failing to enforce its own bylaw and changing the Taxi Bylaw, the city discriminated on the basis of race, colour, ancestry, ethnic or national origin, religion or creed, language, place of origin or citizenship contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code
  • The city is using a system which penalizes taxi cab plate holders when a plate is sold. "They are charging a transfer fee when the asset (plate) is worthless."

The lawsuit was launched just months before ride-sharing services like Uber were legally allowed to operate in the city of Ottawa. Uber first arrived in Ottawa in October 2014, and the city of Ottawa changed the taxi bylaws to allow "private transportation company" licenses in 2016.

Under Ottawa's Taxi Bylaw, taxi brokers must hold a license issued by the city of Ottawa and may only dispatch taxicabs with taxi plates. The taxicab with its plate and authorized driver must meet conditions and regulations to operate on Ottawa roads.  

The taxi industry says the city allowed ride-sharing services to operate in Ottawa with "far fewer restrictions and with much lower costs than taxis."

"And since that time, taxi plate owners and brokers have paid the price," said a statement from Coventry Connections about the lawsuit, which operates Blue Line, Capital Taxi and West-Way Taxi in Ottawa.

"Their plates have significantly diminished in the market trading place, business has suffered with fewer customers taking taxis and their investments in the future have been rendered valueless."

The statement from Coventry Connections says while the city of Ottawa's taxi bylaw is still in effect, "the environment has changed completely" and the value of taxi plates have dropped.

"With more cars than customers on the road, it is very difficult for taxi drivers to make a living," the statement says.

"When Uber entered the picture, the City’s support for the plate system became totally ineffective and the collaboration with the taxi industry came to a sudden halt.  The City abandoned its commitment to the taxi industry to the detriment of the taxi stakeholders who had relied on the City’s position for over 40 years."

When the taxi industry's lawsuit was certified in 2018, the city said it would "vigorously defend against the allegations set out in the lawsuit."

The statement of claim from the taxi industry has not been tested in court.

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