UPDATED: BC Supreme Court orders halt to Surrey's ticketing of Uber drivers

City ordered to pay company's court costs

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The BC Supreme Court has ruled decisively in favour of Uber over the City of Surrey and granted an injunction against ticketing the ride-hailing company and its drivers within the municipality.

“Surrey has been attempting to ride two horses at once — it has told Uber there’s no business licence to which it can apply yet has been ticketing Uber for not having a business licence,” stated Justice Veronica Jackson in her ruling Friday.

“Time to move on,” Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum wrote in a short email statement quickly following the ruling.

It’s not yet known how much Surrey has spent on the court challenge, and taxpayers will be picking up he bill for Uber as well.

Jackson’s decision against the city was definitive, with Uber meeting all the requirements of a successful injunction application to stop the ticketing.

First, Jackson determined there was no apparent intent by the city to stop ticketing drivers in the future.

“I find a high probability ticketing will continue in the future,” said Jackson.    

Second, Jackson agreed there was enough evidence that Uber had a case that its rights had been violated — a key basis for an injunction.

Finally, it was clear to Jackson that Uber was facing irreparable harm had the injunction not been granted. Not only had the company and drivers been fined, the ticketing resulted in unknown loss of revenue by deterring drivers and customers from using the app. Furthermore, there was the possibility of damage to the company’s reputation, Jackson ruled.

Also taken into consideration by the Justice was the public interest.

“I find the public interest favours granting the injunction,” she said.

Much of Uber’s argument against the City of Surrey was dependent on Mayor Doug McCallum’s staunch refusal to license ride-hailing companies and drivers.

Councillors Linda Annis and Jack Hundial said the ruling is a victory for the public.

“I think it was the right decision,” said Hundial. “It was the right decision for the city and for residents who don’t have to be engaged in lengthy legal battles.”

Annis called the court battle “nonsense.”

Annis said, via an email statement, she hopes “the mayor will start standing up for our 550,000 Surrey residents rather than a handful of taxi owners who’ve had a decades-long monopoly.”

Annis and Hundial agreed with McCallum that taxis and ride-hailing companies need a more equitable regulatory regime, such as eliminating taxi boundaries, and equal fee structures.

For months McCallum had dug in against ride hailing. When the Passenger Transportation Board granted approval January 23 for Uber and Lyft to operate, Surrey became the only municipality to not issue licences. At the same time, it began ticketing drivers.

McCallum, city manager Vince Lalonde and corporate services manager Rob Costanzo justified the ticketing since the company had no business licence. But Uber argued superseding provincial legislation stated municipalities cannot prohibit operations.

On February 5, Surrey lawyer James Yardley had argued that McCallum was only one voice on council and therefore did not sway the bylaw department’s decision to proactively issue $500 tickets for operating without a licence.

Jackson questioned that argument, noting McCallum issues statements via official city letterhead (and the communications department).

Uber lawyer Michael Feder scoffed at the notion the decision to ticket drivers was done only at the bylaw department level, as if Surrey City Hall is a place where the rank and file, management and politicians “all do different things and don’t talk to each other.”

Meanwhile, McCallum on Friday reiterated his new position on an inter-municipal ride-hailing license: “We will work with TransLink on the Mayors’ Council’s motion on a Regional Business Licence to ensure a level playing field between ride-hailing and taxis.

Costanzo also issued a statement: “The City of Surrey will abide by today’s court ruling. No further enforcement action will be taken in respect to the matters addressed by the court for ride-hailing in Surrey.”

Hundial said he expects dialogue in council chambers during Monday’s public meeting to address Coun, Brenda Locke’s January 27 notice of motion to start working with region on a licensing system.