Saskatoon

Class-action lawsuit alleges Saskatoon's ride-hailing regime discriminates against immigrant taxi drivers

A Saskatoon taxi licence holder is taking the city to court, arguing the city has systematically brought on the death of the local taxi industry — most recently by opening the door to Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

Saskatoon taxi licence holder suing City of Saskatoon in Court of Queen's Bench

A Saskatoon taxi licence holder is taking the city to court, arguing the city has systematically brought on the death of the local taxi industry — most recently by opening the door to Uber and other ride-hailing companies. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

A Saskatoon taxi licence holder is taking the city to court, arguing the city has systematically brought on the death of the local taxi industry — most recently by opening the door to Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

Scott Suppes is the owner of S-I Management Ltd., a holding company with 16 Saskatoon taxicab licences.

In a statement of claim filed Wednesday in Saskatoon's Court of Queen's Bench, Suppes argues that the city — by historically capping the number of taxi licences to 165 — encouraged the ballooning of those licences' total worth, which Suppes now estimates at $40 million.

"Saskatoon granted licences for decades and fostered a multi-million dollar taxi industry that grew in reliance on that system," according to the statement of claim. 

Taxi licences — which recently sold for as much as $260,000 each — were "bought, sold and financed like homes" while the city profited from fees charged for any licence resales, the suit also claims. 

Now, with the passage of a bylaw last December allowing for Uber and other ride hailing entrants, those taxi licences are now "essentially worthless," Suppes' suit alleges.

As far as damages, Suppes is asking for "a money judgment for compensatory and symbolic damages and restitution." He also wants the ride-hailing bylaw declared "invalid." 

The city declined to comment on the suit Thursday.

"The city is in the process of reviewing the documents," a spokesperson said. "To maintain the integrity of the city's legal position, we will not comment other than to say the city will respond accordingly in court and allow that process to unfold."

The city has between 20 to 30 days to respond to Suppes' statement of claim.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark has said the bylaw is just an interim step. The city's first stab at a comprehensive vehicle-for-hire bylaw that would cover taxis and ride-hailing cars is expected to be released in 2019.

Around round

The class-action suit represents the latest tension point between cabbies and the city, which have also tussled over issues such as driver safety and customer cleanup fees in recent years. 

Taxi drivers bitterly opposed the bylaw allowing for ride-hailing services. 

They argued some of the same points made in Suppes' statement of claim: that ride-hailing operators aren't legally required to be wheelchair-accessible, that they don't have to maintain an office in Saskatoon or pay as many of the same "burdensome" regulatory costs as taxi drivers — allowing Uber and similar companies to better attract drivers by offering more competitive wages.

Taxi drivers also opposed the decision to not cap the number of ride-hailing cars and to allow ride-hailing companies to charge surge pricing, arguing it made for an uneven playing field. 

'Disproportionate burdens' on minority groups

In the suit's most serious claim, Suppes argues that because most Saskatoon taxi drivers are immigrants — some of whose driving careers allowed them to bring family members to Canada — the introduction of the ride-hailing bylaw was discriminatory on the basis of race. 

"The 2018 [ride-hailing] bylaw imposes disproportionate burdens on these minority groups that widen the gap between these minority groups and the rest of Saskatoon" according to the statement of claim. 

The suit also offers a candid account of ride hailing's short-term effect on the taxi industry in Saskatoon.

"The requirement that Uber only accept passengers who pay through an electronic payment system linked to their bank accounts and credit cards resulted in the churn of affluent Canadian passengers from taxis to Uber and mandatory acceptance of taxis of a disproportionately high number of low-income and other historically disadvantaged passengers," according to the statement of claim. 

Uber singled out

Other ride-hailing companies have joined Uber on Saskatoon's streets in recent months, including RideX, Riide and Rel8Well. But Suppes' suit takes direct aim at Uber.

Suppes' statement of claim says taxi drivers almost never give rides to people who hail a cab from the street, whereas ride-hailing drivers do so despite that not being allowed in the new bylaw.

"The Uber mobile application allows street hailing, as passengers can electronically hail an Uber vehicle within seconds from their phones."

CBC News has reached out to Uber for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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