British Columbia

Suburban, rural cities worry Class 4 licence rule will restrict ride-hailing service

B.C. municipalities outside Vancouver are worried that the province's rules around ride-hailing mean there will be a shortage of drivers in their communities when companies start operating over the new few months. 

'We'll end up with professional drivers heading to downtown [Vancouver] where the money is': Coquitlam mayor

Ride-hailing advocates say the province's new licensing regimen, including a Class 4 licensing requirement for drivers, makes it virtually impossible for the service to operate in B.C. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)

B.C. municipalities outside Vancouver are worried the province's rules around ride-hailing mean there will be a shortage of drivers in their communities when companies start operating over the new few months. 

At a session on ride-hailing at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention on Tuesday, Coquitlam's Richard Stewart was one of many B.C. mayors who asked if the government would ease requirements for all drivers of companies like Lyft and Uber to have a Class 4 licence.

That licence requires applicants to pass a written and road test, along with providing medical records and a criminal record check. Applicants must also have less than four driving offences.

"I want people who live in Coquitlam to be available to other people in Coquitlam," said Stewart. "I think we'll end up with professional drivers heading to downtown [Vancouver] where the money is."

There are concerns outside Metro Vancouver as well. 

"I'm looking for something that will help a rural community," said Wayne Carson, area director for the Regional District of Central Okanagan, "[but] the Class 4 is really turning out to be a stumbling block for us."

Government not budging

There were no cabinet ministers or MLAs representing the government during the session, but provincial officials reiterated that the rules around ride-hailing were unlikely to change. 

"The direction we received was maintaining the Class 4 requirement," said Jeremy Wood, the Ministry of Transportation's senior legislative director.

He said that a review of the regulations around ride-hailing was scheduled for 2022, and, in the meantime, the Passenger Transportation Board would be in charge of enforcement. 

"I don't blame government employees for not stepping in," said Stewart, explaining why he wasn't disappointed with the lack of new information about the reasons behind needing a Class 4 licence. 

"We know that it was a political decision to ignore the recommendation of the all-party committee [that recommended a Class 5 requirement]."

What can municipalities do?

While most mayors at the meeting expressed support for ride-hailing coming to their community, some have been opposed, including Surrey's Doug McCallum, who said he would not issue business licences to companies seeking to operate in B.C.'s second largest municipality. 

But officials reiterated that while municipalities could set regulations around how ride-hailing companies could operate, they couldn't prohibit them from operating in their municipality.

When Surrey Coun. Stephen Pettigrew asked officials what would happen if a city denied a company like Uber a licence, Wood had a clear answer.

"It's something I would recommend you talk to your legal counsel about," Wood said. 

Pettigrew also asked whether the province was considering future rules around "robo-vehicles," which he later clarified to mean autonomous vehicles, but the officials said they hadn't. 

"I hope it's a few years out, because we've got a lot of work to do on a lot more other fronts," said Steven Haywood, the Transportation Ministry's lead official on the ride-hailing file. "Right now, it's not on our radar."

The province says it expects ride-hailing companies to begin operations in B.C. by the end of the year — 14 different companies have put forward applications to date — and that it would begin negotiations with municipalities to share anonymized data that will be gathered from rides to help with future transportation and planning policy. 

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