Metro Vancouver mayors have voted to ensure ride-hailing drivers can operate across the region’s 21 cities without having to buy licences in each of them, an effort to calm worries about consumer choice and prevent the province from imposing its own rules.
Thursday’s agreement to put in place interim rules for a regional business licence by the end of January is a response to ride-hailing companies who said separate fees could hurt service availability and limit where they operate to avoid compounding costs.
Last week, Burnaby passed rules to require a $510 licence for each ride-hailing vehicle and drivers faced the prospect of having to spend another $100 in Vancouver and $203 in New Westminster if they wanted the freedom to move around the region.
Under the new structure, drivers will be able to operate freely across Metro Vancouver with one yet-to-be-determined fee. That’s different from taxi operators, which are only able to pick up customers in their licensed regions.
“I think it’s a good idea provided our members are given the same privilege to have a single business licence in the region,” said Mohan Kang, president of the B.C. Taxi Association.
Ride-hailing companies praised the decision, which comes just in time for the expected provincial approval of their launch by Christmas.
Lyft said that a single licence “will allow drivers and riders to move more seamlessly across the region.” Scott Larson, the chief executive officer of B.C.-based Kater, said a joint fee “is exactly how it should be done.”
Premier John Horgan, whose government committed to ensuring ride hailing became available, said Thursday that offering the service remains a priority, but ensuring it is done right cannot be rushed.
"The questions on ride hailing have been, ‘Will it be a failure if something doesn’t happen by twilight of the full moon?’ A failure will be people getting hurt, a failure will be a collapse of the existing industry, those are failures.”
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he would now look at adjusting fees set by his council in September.
“There is a fear that we could lose our jurisdiction to the province, that they are so keen to move ahead with this that if we hold it up in any way that we’ll lose our local ability of any regulation over this industry,” he said at the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation meeting.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum was the lone mayor to oppose the motion, reiterating his concerns about fair competition with the taxi industry.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West voted in favour of the motion, saying: “I think a failure here would put amalgamation on the tips of people’s tongues.”
The fee structure is expected to be cost neutral, with the funds collected by one municipality and then redistributed to others based on incurred costs.
The rules would also include measures on data collection, with a plan to monitor how the services affect congestion. Studies in the U.S. have shown that services like Uber and Lyft contribute to increased traffic.
With a report from Justine Hunter
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