Brokers and owners preparing to launch legal action against City
by Mike Beggs
At this juncture, there is little or no doubt that legal challenges will be forthcoming against the City of Toronto and the mind-boggling February 19 Council decision, which has turned the taxi industry, “on its ear”.
There is widespread agreement such measures as on-demand 100 percent wheelchair accessible taxi service and the new Toronto Taxi License (TTL) amount to an attack on plate equity which will wipe out fleet garages and possibly thousands of fleet drivers, while failing to benefit the industry or the riding public. But just how and when these court actions will take place remains up in the air.
Last month, Taxi News cited rumours of as many as three separate legal challenges being mounted -- by Standard plate owners, fleet garages, and owners. But to date, the only real hard news to report is that the TTA has hired a lawyer (Michael Binetti, with Affleck Greene McMurtry LLP) and is exploring its options, with the July 1 date looming for the kick-in of the measures approved by Council.
At press time, Diamond Taxi general manager Saleem Irshad confirmed that the Toronto Taxi Alliance (which claims to represent 90 percent of industry interests) has yet to file for an injunction against the City.
And contrary to opinion voiced last month, Diamond president Jim Bell says there is no legal requirement that an injunction be filed within 30 days of the February 19 Council meeting.
“They haven’t even confirmed the actions of their last committee. That won’t happen until April,” he relates. So, we’re exploring our legal options. We’re going to be filing expeditiously, of course.
“We’re engaging our attorney, and we’re looking forward to fighting those changes.”
On the level of support for the TTA action, he says, “It’s very strong. People realize the implications.”
“When that Framework Report came out, nothing has brought the industry together like that has,” adds Kristine Hubbard, Beck Taxi operations manager. “There’s no exclusivity for the effects this is going to have.
“This whole divide and conquer thing has always been their way. That’s the way it has been over the years. But when everybody‘s getting shafted, I’m not sure there’s any benefit to that approach.
“Unsolicited, we are consistently being told this is unbelievable and that we would have a very good case.”
But Ambassador Louis Seta, who attempted to lead his own legal challenge several years back as president of the now-defunct Toronto Taxi Industry Association, suggests in any such legal action, the TTA would be, “wasting huge amounts of money, and every dime they spend comes out of the driver’s pockets -- it’s the money from their dues and shifts.”
He observes that, with the added powers granted under the City Of Toronto Act (COTA), “it’s exceedingly hard” to take the City to court.
“The City is fighting all these challenges with our money,” he comments. “The money invested is huge. And at the end of the day, if the City passes a law it’s very tough to get it quashed. This one was passed by a massive majority.”
Fleet operator Sam Moini, a member of the TTA’s Board Of Directors, acknowledges that, “everybody’s concerned” about the sweeping powers the City has been granted under COTA.
“But, the main thing is, they have to be fair to people,” he states. “They can’t just randomly change something. They have to do things in good faith.”
He notes the City of Toronto considers itself the owner of all taxi plates, and suggests, “Once they do that, they have a certain responsibility to the industry. They get a $5,000 commission on every plate Ð they can call it transferring a plate all they want.”
He maintains part of that responsibility is, “To make sure they have the right amount of taxis on the road, so cab drivers can make a living. There has to be fairness.”
Moini reports the TTA will be hosting an April 23 meeting, “for all the owners to come in and get an update.” He suggests everybody’s united by the sentiment that, “Nobody wants the Standard plate to become a TTL.”
“It’s everybody’s livelihood on the line, right now,” he continues. “I’m sure there are some differences between some of the owners and the brokers. The thing I’m most encouraged about as a fleet operator and Standard plate owner is, we all want to make sure our investment isn’t impacted upon, so everybody can have a pension.”
At press time, Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. president Mike Tranquada confirmed that his group and the Independent Cab Owners Cooperative are now seeking legal advice, and considering the idea of filing their own injunction.
“We may go with the TTA, or have our own counsel represent us, because we have some differences with the brokerages,” he says.
Meanwhile, long-time owner/operator Lawrence Eisenberg is willing to stand behind the TTA, as the industry’s “best bet” against the City.
“Absolutely. It’s the only game in town,” he offers. “It makes sense. If it’s industry-wide and you can stop them with one (legal challenge), that’s the way to go.”
He suggests the industry should have put a “war chest” (of monthly member contributions) together years ago for such developments, noting that, “it all comes down to money”.
And with the July 1 deadline approaching, he stresses, “The brokerages have everything in place to collect the money. Everybody else doesn’t.”
While Bell points out that the TTA already has a Board of Directors in place, Eisenberg says he and some other veteran owners have requested that the group grant them an advisory role in the legal challenge.
“It’s not only the input. We have the experience, and the paper trail that leads back to us,” he offers.
However, long-time owner/operator and activist Gerald Manley says he won’t be supporting the TTA with the requested $1,000 contribution. He points out that the TTA does not have an elected Board of Directors, and that none of its members represent owners exclusively.
However, he did offer his own legal opinion about the best way for the group to go.
“If they get an injunction to fight the TTL, and parallel that with a class action law suit on behalf of standard plate owners, that’s where they might gain some traction,” he says.
Having led a court battle against the City himself in 2003, Eisenberg cites the industry’s long-simmering frustration with its regulator.
“At this point, the taxi industry is no longer cooperating with them,” he adds. “If you give them your finger, they take your arm.”
Wilma Walsh, with the Drivers On The Waiting List would offer no comment on the status of the her group’s longstanding legal aspirations. But she confirmed they have hired a new lawyer, J. Adam Dewar, of Roy O’Connor LLP.