Suburban and rural communities in British Columbia are desperate to get ride-hailing services, but they are worried the province’s requirements will discourage many potential drivers, leaving those areas to continue struggling with little or no service.
That’s why Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart is organizing a letter to the province, asking that the driver’s-licence requirement for ride-hailing drivers be changed from the current Class 4 needed for taxis, smaller buses and ambulances to something less prohibitive.
“We’re frustrated,” Mr. Stewart said during a forum at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this week dedicated to the new ride-hailing rules. He has already gathered the signatures of 45 other mayors. “We know if we supply-manage this, the suburbs will have less-than-optimal coverage. We think we’re going to end up with just professional drivers [getting licences] and then heading downtown.”
To get a Class 4 licence, applicants have to pass the more stringent criminal-record check required for those working with vulnerable populations, demonstrate that they have no medical condition that could affect their driving ability and have a driving record with less than four penalty points in the past two years.
Mr. Stewart said he has talked to a Coquitlam woman who drives a school bus and has had to take multiple days off work to get medical tests in order to qualify for a Class 4 licence – a process that will likely discourage anyone in his suburb from becoming a casual ride-hail driver.
He said that he thinks a simple Class 5 licence, the kind that most people have to drive their own cars, with a criminal-record check and augmented insurance, is enough.
B.C. has only allowed ride-hailing services to apply to operate as of this year and is now accepting applications from companies. There are 14 applications over all so far, some only for the Lower Mainland, others for two or more of the designated operating regions in the province.
Councillors and mayors from smaller communities elsewhere in B.C. told government bureaucrats on the panel story after story about living in towns with little or no taxi or bus service.
Wayne Carson, a director in the Regional District of Central Kelowna, said people are just trying to find a way for seniors to get to town for errands and are concerned that new rules will get in the way.
“The Class 4 is a barrier to some. Is there something there for us?”
The councillors and mayors also worried that, even though there might be applications from ride-hailing companies in their region, the drivers who apply will only want to work in the larger cities – because they’ll need to make a nearly full-time living if they have to go through the process of getting a Class 4 licence.
An all-party legislative committee in Victoria recommended only requiring a Class 5 licence, but the NDP government decided against that.
A small group of suburban council members in the Lower Mainland has expressed opposition to any ride-hailing, which prompted a question at the forum about whether a single municipality could block ride-hailing within its boundaries.
Surrey Councillor Steve Pettigrew noted that Mayor Doug McCallum has said he is opposed and will work to stop it, although he hasn’t brought any kind of motion to council yet.
But Steven Haywood, the lead in B.C.’s Transportation Ministry for taxi modernization and ride-hailing, told the forum the municipalities have the right to issue or deny business licences, but they aren’t allowed to override the policies set by the Passenger Transportation Board. The province has given the board the sole power to decide on boundaries where taxis and ride-hailing can operate and the number of vehicles allowed, something that municipalities used to have a say in.