Sheikh Imran likened it to a “police interrogation,” but he hadn’t broken the law: The Beck Taxi driver had used two smartphone applications to find people to ride in his cab.
For refusing to stop, his punishment was exile.
“They took my car. They took my radio service. Everything,” said Imran, nearly a week after the day that he claims he was called into Beck head office and grilled about his use of the taxi for Hailo and Uber calls. Beck policy is to forbid drivers from finding fares with smartphone apps made by other companies — even though it’s legal for cabbies to do so.Imran said he hasn’t been able to work since the backroom meeting on Aug. 20 — which he said was video-recorded like a “police interrogation” — claiming he’s been blocked from picking up his rented taxi and kicked off the Beck dispatch system.
“I’m being deprived of my livelihood,” said Imran, 44. “It’s a major violation of my professional rights.”
Beck operations manager Kristine Hubbard responded to requests for comment on Twitter, denying knowledge of any issues with drivers and stating: “Drivers support Beck no incidents to report. Sorry.”
Since hitting the streets last year, Hailo and Uber have caused a commotion in Toronto’s taxi industry. The app-makers contend they’re providing drivers with a more efficient way to find fares in the city, while more longstanding brokerages like Beck claim its cabbies shouldn’t be allowed to use apps made by other firms.
Speaking to the Star last October, Hubbard denied any cab drivers were being disciplined for using the apps, but insisted that they should only be allowed to use one dispatch company.
“When you’re in a Beck Taxi, the service being offered through the Beck Taxi radios are for Beck taxis,” she said at the time. “You work for one company or you work for another.”
There’s no bylaw forbidding cab drivers from using more than one brokerage to find fares. But there’s also nothing stopping companies such as Beck from asking their drivers not to use the apps, said Scott Sullivan, the city’s acting manager of licensing enforcement.
“That’s not within our jurisdiction to deal with,” he said, calling Imran’s case — which the city is investigating — a matter that’s probably suited for civil courts.
“Beck is saying: ‘We don’t want our drivers using any other brokerage.’ That’s up to them,” said Sullivan. “That’s a contractual arrangement.”
Imran and his supporters at Uber and Hailo, however, contend that Beck is depriving drivers of their right to find customers as they see fit, essentially restricting their earning capacity and scaring them from trying out new technology.
“He’s very aware of his rights as an independent contractor,” said Hailo Canada president Justin Raymond, who claimed Imran is one of the few drivers willing to take Beck to task over its policy on prohibiting use of the new apps.
“He is the tip of the iceberg,” said Raymond. “There are just so many drivers that are afraid to use Hailo.”
William Guernier, general manager for Uber Toronto, said the company donated $1 from every cab ride last Thursday to Imran, to help him now that he’s out of work. Imran’s family lives in Karachi, Pakistan, while he’s been working in Canada for more than a decade.
“It was a good bit of money and we think it’ll go a long way to help,” Guernier said. “It’s important that he and other drivers can source business in any way they choose.”
Around 3 p.m. on Aug. 20, Imran was driving his taxi when he was paged and told to come to Beck head office. Imran said he was escorted into a manager’s office, where a camera and audio equipment were set up to record him.
He sat down, and was asked whether he used Hailo and Uber. He said, “yes,” and was asked to sign a waiver promising not to use the apps anymore. Imran said he refused, and was then cut off from dispatch service. When he tried to pick up a car from his usual garage near Midland Ave. and Lawrence Ave. E., he said he was told none were available.
Imran said the apps gave him an extra “six or seven” customers per day, which was helpful, especially in light of gas prices and car rental fees of about $70 per day.
“That makes our life at least livable,” he said.
On Twitter, Hubbard — who Imran claimed was in the room when he was asked to sign the waiver — wrote “Drivers always have choices” when asked about Imran. “We have an app for use in Beck vehicles but any driver can use other apps/drive for other companies.”
Moving forward, Imran has vowed to fight Beck’s policy however he can, and hopes he can help inform other drivers that they’re legally allowed to supplement their incomes by accepting additional fares on taxi apps.
“If I lose my job, that’s fine,” Imran said. “I will raise my voice no matter what.”