More than 100 escaped taxi drivers blame Coventry, union and insurance for woes


Unlike their colleagues who resumed driving, the holdouts each refused to pay Coventry Connections, Ottawa’s largest taxi company and the operator of Blue Line, Capital and West-Way Taxi, thousands of dollars in charges for dispatch services and taxi stands, which covered months in which they did not operate due to the pandemic.

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More than 100 Ottawa taxi drivers who have not returned to driving since the start of the pandemic say they have been stranded not only by COVID-19, but also by their old company, union and the insurance industry.

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The frustrated drivers are among the more than 1,000 taxi drivers who stayed at home during the first weeks of the pandemic. According to an April 2020 memo to Ottawa advisers, only 114 of Ottawa’s 1,192 taxis were showing up for service at the time. But while a majority of drivers have returned to work, retired or changed jobs in recent months, the hundred or so taxi drivers have not.

Unlike their colleagues who resumed driving, the holdouts each refused to pay Coventry Connections, Ottawa’s largest taxi company and the operator of Blue Line, Capital and West-Way Taxi, thousands of dollars in charges for dispatch services and taxi stands, which covered months in which they did not operate due to the pandemic.

Taxi driver Abdul Hamid Hussein, 62, maintains that the federal emergency benefits he received last year were not intended to be paid to Coventry. “They say it’s money to survive, not to pay for the roof plate (of my taxi) that is left at the house,” Hussein says.

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“Yes We are doing you a favor and I will pay you … my plate was sitting at home in a drawer. Why should I pay you a fee? Nods driver Mahmut Mahmutoglu, 63 years old.

The struggles of these drivers are the latest difficult chapter for a taxi industry that has had to contend not only with the pandemic but also, before that, with the arrival of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Drivers complain their pandemic stress is worse because the taxi plates they bought years ago and hoped to resell when they retire were massively devalued after Uber was legalized and d other services in Ottawa in 2016.

“Since the City of Ottawa legalized Uber, the value of our plate is zero,” says taxi driver George Jarawan.

But the pain in Ottawa’s taxi industry has also been widely felt, as Coventry Connections chairman Marc Andre Way said in an interview his business was on the verge of bankruptcy last year and was considering shutting down. .

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The recalcitrant drivers disagree not only with Coventry Connections but also with their old union, Unifor Local 1688, which continues to represent the roughly 700 drivers who have returned to work for Coventry.

“The union abandoned us. They did not defend their pilots ”, maintains the pilot Nadim Krayem.

Ali Enad, the president of the local, disagrees. “We doing everything we can to help everyone, ”he says. “ Most of our members are actually happy.

Enad says that under their collective agreement, drivers were required to pay monthly fees for dispatch services and taxi stand rent whether or not they drove. Enad and Way, the chairman of Coventry, compare the costs of renting an apartment, which must be paid by a tenant whether the apartment is occupied or not.

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But the agreement lacked wording to cover an emergency such as the pandemic, and when COVID-19 arrived in Ottawa, the union told its members not to pay the fees, Enad says.

When the pandemic hit, we asked the company to freeze the rate, and the company said no and we fought, both ways, ”Enad said.

Taxis lined up at the Ottawa train station.
Taxis lined up at the Ottawa train station. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

The union also consulted levels of government but found, says Enad, that “no one has the power to force the company not to charge us.”

In May 2020, the case was brought before an arbitrator, who delivered his decision in early March of this year.

Enad says the arbitrator has ruled the unpaid shipping charges should be discounted, averaging around 50 percent. The total amount owed varied from driver to driver, but in the worst case scenario, a driver would have to pay around $ 3,000 to work for Coventry again, Enad says. Most of the drivers accepted the arbitrator’s decision, which also came with a registration deadline of March 31, Enad said.

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The drivers who resisted and refused to pay the unpaid fees “were misled by other people who want to play politics and they missed the deadline,” says Enad. “As of April 1, they were no longer unionized and out of the company. “

One driver who paid the unpaid fees and returned to work was Amrik Singh, former president of Unifor Local 1688. And yet, Singh criticizes the work done by the union.

Singh, along with the drivers who resisted, argue that the arbitrator’s decision was simply a deal made by the union and Coventry, which the arbitrator adopted. “The union and the company both asked the arbitrator to become a mediator and he tried to sort it out and in the end he told both parties to sit down and agree on something.” , Singh said.

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If I were president of the union, I would have gotten a better deal, ”he says.

But Way of Coventry Connections says Singh and the recalcitrant drivers misunderstand what happened when the referee became involved.

“The role of an arbiter is to listen to both sides of the story and find a fair solution. Not everyone gets what they want, ”Way says. “That’s exactly what the referee did. He came up with a resolution that fixed the issues and got people back to work. ”

Abdulhamid Hussein (left) and Mahout Mahmutoglu (right) are among a group of dissident drivers in town who are considering starting their own business because they don't want to drive for Coventry Connections.
Abdulhamid Hussein (left) and Mahout Mahmutoglu (right) are among a group of dissident drivers in town who are considering starting their own business because they don’t want to drive for Coventry Connections. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

Drivers who have stood firm note that during the pandemic, Coventry benefited from emergency federal wage subsidies. Way acknowledges that Coventry has received grants for ” the limited number of staff we had left, because we had laid off a lot of staff.

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Current union president Enad has said Coventry, along with its drivers, are in dire straits due to the pandemic.

The company showed us papers, ”says Enad. “ Blue Line and Capital were going to go bankrupt. They were going to shut down the business, even if they got government support.

Way confirms that it was “absolutely true” that his business was at one point financially hampered.

Recalcitrant drivers explore how they could start their own businesses and say their biggest hurdle is getting insurance. They claim Coventry is blocking their efforts, behind the scenes, to secure insurance.

We’re not that powerful, ”Way replies. He says that drivers have access to what’s known as facility insurance, which aims to ensure access torisk drivers, but is “extremely expensive”.

“It’s a matter of how much you want to pay,” Way says.

Indeed, Coventry has had its own major problems this year obtaining insurance for drivers after many insurance companies left the market during the pandemic and prices increased. Now drivers in Coventry pay around $ 825 per month per car for insurance, which goes through Coventry to the insurance company, Way says.

Enad says that even though the recalcitrant drivers have left the union, he is ready to try to help them.

I feel for them, to be honest, ”he says. “I wish I could help them and I tried. I will keep trying.

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