Municipalities across B.C.'s Lower Mainland are imposing separate licence fees for every ride-hailing vehicle on their roads, prompting concerns that compounding costs will deter drivers from participating and hinder consumer choice.
The City of Burnaby has approved a $510-a-vehicle business licence, by far the highest price of any municipality in the region. The pricing measure, which matches the fee for cabs, follows the City of Vancouver’s decision in October to approve its own business licence fee of $100 a year for each ride-hailing driver. New Westminster will charge $203 for every vehicle.
A key complaint from the taxi industry is that cab companies continue to face regional restrictions, whereas ride-hailing drivers will be able to operate across the Lower Mainland.
But as each municipality levies per-vehicle licence fees on ride-hailing drivers, the cost burden could have the same result, as drivers limit the areas they serve.
“If the fees and the licencing requirements for a certain area are too onerous, drivers won’t drive in that area,” said Scott Larson, the chief executive of B.C. ride-hailing startup Kater. As a result, he added, ride-hailing “could be over before it starts in some of these places.”
Ride-hailing companies had already expressed concerns that Class 4 Licence requirements, the same as taxi drivers, would hamper their ability to recruit drivers.
The fee developments come as the Passenger Transportation Board continues to review applications from ride-hailing companies. The process has taken longer than expected, raising uncertainty about the provincial government’s pledge to have services operating in time for the holiday season.
B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena “is confident ride-hailing services will be online by Christmas,” her office said in a statement.
So far, Delta has set a fee of $25 for each vehicle to a maximum of $1,500 per company, and Richmond at $132 for every car to a limit of $4,007. Should Surrey also opt to match taxi requirements, the cost there would be $409 for each vehicle.
“This isn’t how it should be done,” Mr. Larson said. “They’re licensing ride-hailing vehicles as though they were taxis, but in fact they aren’t.”
U.S.-based ride-hailing giant Lyft said 76 per cent of its drivers are on the road for fewer than 10 hours a week. It said the costly licence fees could lead to higher congestion and emissions as drivers drop off customers in a region where they don’t have a licence only to return passenger-less to Vancouver or another municipality.
Mr. Larson said a better alternative would be the unified licence structure adopted by the Tri-Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, where a 10-cent pick-up fee will be added to every ride.
The fee structures put in place by Burnaby and other municipalities are designed to be interim measures until an agreement is reached on a single inter-municipal business licence. But that may not come until the end of 2020, the Burnaby report says. (Lyft said it supports an inter-municipal licence.)
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley did not respond to a request for comment by deadline on Tuesday.
Besides its $100 vehicle fee, Vancouver has set a 30-cent congestion fee for pick-ups or drop-offs in the city’s core between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
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