Metro Vancouver taxi companies begin ride-hailing challenge in court
VANCOUVER -- A group of Vancouver-area taxi companies is in BC Supreme Court attempting to suspend provincial approval of ride-hailing, claiming the decision is "unlawful" and that the average driver is already losing an estimated $100 a day.
The Notice of Application for an interlocutory order staying the decision of the Passenger Transportation Board was filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia against the PTB, Uber Canada and Lyft Canada on Jan. 27, four days after the PTB approved ride-hailing in the province. They’re also asking for a judicial review of the decision.
David Penner, representing the taxi companies, said they need four days of court time for their petition to be heard, which could take months to schedule and that they’ll continue to suffer "irreparably" in that time, necessitating a quick injunction by the judge.
Their case hinges on the "uneven playing field" argument that cab drivers have been making for some time: that they’re restricted in the number of cars they can operate, where they can pick up customers, and how much they’re able to charge passengers — while ride-hailing companies are free to set their fares and run as many cars wherever they want.
An affidavit by Carolyn Bauer of the Vancouver Taxi Association filed and presented to the judge, claims that within the first two days of Uber and Lyft operating, taxi operators noticed significant drops in business at Vancouver International Airport and hotel taxi stands. As they lose money, they argue, they have to continue paying for mortgages they took to finance their taxi licences, which have gone for six-figure sums at auction.
Lawyers for Uber and Lyft tried to quash the applications from the get-go, while trying to prevent additional taxi companies (some of whom don’t operate in the area) from making arguments and dismissing two affidavits as "improper."
They argued the taxi companies made a flawed application initially and have been trying to submit more documents after the initial argument, which they didn’t believe should be allowed.
Madame Justice Veronica Jackson partially agreed and disqualified the additional companies, but accepted the affidavit submitted after the initial application.
More than two dozen observers and supporters of the Vancouver-area taxi companies challenging the approval attended the courtroom as lawyers for both sides brought stacks of documents to present to the judge.
In their application to the court, the Vancouver Taxi Association, Yellow Cab, Black Top & Checker Cabs, Maclure’s Cabs, Vancouver Taxi and others claim "the Board did not consider the impact on the economic viability of the taxi industry in granting licences to Uber and Lyft that did not regulate their fleet size and prices charged to customers, as the Board has with taxis."
Nearly two dozen additional companies had tried to be involved as petitioners rather than formal applicants. Their lawyer insisted that the companies, which operate in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Sunshine Coast, will be affected by the court’s decision and should be heard, but with the judge striking their application, they are no longer involved.
The formal taxi consortium alleges that in other markets, Uber and Lyft have crushed competitors by offering low prices that they can afford to sustain while they "drive out competitors."
Uber’s lawyer responded that there’s not a single city in the world where ride-hailing has resulted in the destruction of the taxi industry, saying "Uber operates all over the world and there are taxis there to this day."
He also emphasized the extensive consultation process done by the PTB before exercising its regulatory authority to approve ride-hailing in the province.
Penner says that while it might be unpopular to "switch off" the apps with an injunction while the entire matter is adjudicated, "that inconvenience pales in comparison to the irreparable harm by my clients."
The taxi companies claim that while Uber and Lyft provided hundreds of pages of documentation, they redacted all financial information and cash flow projections, and the companies haven’t had enough time to review all the material in the few days since it was submitted. The Vancouver Taxi Industry’s position repeatedly questioned the viability and stability of Uber and Lyft’s business models in the long term, which they say the PTB is required to consider and what it could mean for passengers if the companies were to fail after the taxi industry has been decimated, leaving travellers with even less service than they currently have.
Uber’s lawyer said they simply have a different business model, noting that in the past seven years that ride-sharing has been up for discussion in the province of BC, the taxi companies had "ample time" to adapt their service model to be more competitive. He also pointed out that as a publicly-traded company, Uber makes certain financial information available but would never reveal detailed business plans.
While taxi companies have long complained that ride-hailing companies have an unfair advantage, the provincial government was roundly criticized for repeatedly missing deadlines to approve the services — which have been seen as a necessary alternative to insufficient taxi service on weekends and other busy times.
The judge is scheduled to deliver a decision on the matter Thursday morning.