Thursday, June 20, 2024
Plaintiff and CTA president Marc Andre Way spoke to media on May 13, 2024 after the court decided Ottawa was "negligent' in failing to enforce its own laws against Uber. Photo: Taxi News
Opinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Taxi industry class action victory a win for the rule of law

RWN/Taxi News publisher Rita Smith

“Uber was a bandit taxi company.”

The idea that Superior Court Justice Marc Smith made this very plain statement in his May 13 judgment is good news for Canada.

The class action lawsuit, Metro Taxi v City of Ottawa, was filed by members of Ottawa’s taxi industry in 2016, when the City rewrote its taxi bylaw to accommodate Uber.

From 2014 to 2016, “It (Uber) provided transportation services to customers for compensation, and for two years, it refused to comply with the City’s regulations,” Smith notes.

Smith’s decision, and his very plain language, is like a sharp needle popping a balloon filled with a decade of political hot air. His pointed, emphatic words are a victory for truth, common sense, and the rule of law.

Then-mayor Jim Watson in Ottawa, as with his counterparts elsewhere, was adamant that everything about Uber was so new, it wasn’t even a transportation provider: it was a technology company. Therefore, they reasoned, it was not subject to any of the laws which had developed over a century to keep passengers and consumers safe in a vehicle for hire.

Smith’s common-sense observations come as a tremendous relief, because the gaslighting and the language manipulation that accompanied Uber’s arrival has been outrageous. Laws were re-written and words re-defined to meet the new needs of government.

Before 2014, if you paid the driver of a car to transport you somewhere, it was called a “taxicab.” Post-2014, with the advent of Uber, you weren’t paying for a ride, you were “accessing an app.” Uber was absolved of all the pesky rules which regulated the taxicab industry.

Justice Marc Smith

Inventing two completely different sets of rules for people doing the exact same work was “creating a level playing field.”

 “Lobbying” no longer meant persuading with evidence, but buying, bullying and bamboozling.

By 2016, “transportation for compensation” was out and “ride sharing” was in, despite the fact that no one was sharing anything. After 2016, the word “share” meant “sell.” Everyone seemed to accept this: government, media, insurers, linguists. Only Luddites and troglodytes resisted the change.

While the last decade has been rough on everyone, almost no group lost more ground, more money, more time, more faith or hope in Canada more quickly than the thousands of families who invested years and millions of dollars in Canada’s taxi industry. As I noted in 2022, it was egregiously cruel and unfair of Canada to encourage new immigrants to invest their time and money into this highly-regulated industry, only to pull the economic rug out from underneath them at the seductive whisper of an Uber lobbyist.

One taxi driver I knew owned a house before Uber arrived. When business plummeted, he lost that home but was able to rent a room from family. Two years later, he was homeless and couch-surfing with friends.

Looking back, this poor driver seems to foreshadow the plight of many Canadians now: broke, over-regulated, helplessly outraged at government corruption and incompetence, and struggling to keep up with the Orwellian “newspeak” that changes daily and means the opposite of what it used to mean.

In 2024, hard-working people who cannot afford to renew their mortgages risk being made homeless. Well-paying jobs in the oil fields have evaporated as we strive for a mythical “net zero;” the investments self-employed Canadians thought would fund their retirements are being re-defined as the “capital gains tax advantage for the richest few.”  

Suddenly, taxpayers faced with unemployment and an insolent, arrogant government have a lot more in common with the beleaguered taxi drivers who, it turns out, were just the canaries in a gas-lit coal mine.

Smith didn’t mince words in describing the City of Ottawa’s response to Uber as “negligent.”

Uber Canada’s office in Toronto.

“Uber was illegally saturating the Ottawa market with discounted or free rides to gain a significant market share,” Smith wrote, essentially saying the quiet part out loud: allowing Uber to ignore the law for two years provided it the distinct competitive advantage it needed to get launched.

But now, we have a judicial opinion: even technology companies have to obey the law.

May 13 wasn’t just a win for taxi operators who lost their life’s savings and possibly their faith in Canada. It was a victory for everyone who believes in common sense, truth and the rule of law.

*****

This column originally ran in True North