British Columbia

Metro Vancouver to have region-wide business licence for ride-hailing companies

The TransLink Mayors' Council has passed a motion fast-tracking a regional ride-hailing licence for Metro Vancouver, with the goal of having an interim set of rules in place by the end of January.

Mayors' council acts after provincial government threatens to take over jurisdiction

An interim set of rules for a regionwide ride-hailing licence should be in place by the end of January. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

There are 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver, but ride-hailing companies operating in them will only have to deal with one business licence.

The TransLink Mayors' Council passed a motion fast-tracking a region-wide ride-hailing licence on Thursday, with the goal of having an interim set of rules in place by the end of January.

"It really works better if we function as a region, rather than 21 autonomous groups … it's been way too long that we've been waiting," said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

In the summer, the province announced individual municipalities would be allowed to issue business licences.

Since then, communities in Metro Vancouver have taken wildly divergent approaches, from charging companies $25 per driver (Delta) to $510 per driver (Burnaby), to making a public stand that they won't issue business licences at all (Surrey). 

Advocates for ride-hailing had criticized the approach, saying it would dissuade drivers from treating passengers across Metro Vancouver equally.

TransLink vice-president Geoff Cross told mayors that in recent days, the province threatened to take over the process from municipalities if they couldn't find a common approach. 

"There is a fear that we could lose our jurisdiction to the province," said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who recently passed regulations for Vancouver with a $100 per driver fee

"If we hold it up in any way, we'll lose our local ability to have any regulation over this industry."

Only Surrey opposed

Over the next six weeks, TransLink will convene a working group to help set the terms of the inter-municipality business licences, including the fee structure and which municipality will collect and distribute the fees.

An interim model would be in place by the end of January, with a full framework in place by the end of 2020. 

While virtually all mayors supported the motion, a number expressed some reservations over whether the fee structure would be fair to taxi companies, or how municipalities would be able to enforce rules around pick-up and drop-off zones without control over a business license. 

But most said time was of the essence. 

"It's not perfect, but we get to be a player at creating the solution, and not be reacting to something given to us by the province," said City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan. 

"Given that everyone was aware ride-hailing was coming down the pipe, I am surprised this conversation around a regional framework is only happening now ... I hope to see this implemented as soon as humanly possible," said Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov. 

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum was the lone dissenting vote. 

"A large majority of our residents do not support ride-hailing in Surrey," he claimed. 

"It's not a level playing field. There are a lot of differences of levels that are not consistent between ride-hailing and taxis."

McCallum was vague on what specific actions Surrey would take to fight a regional ride-hailing business model, but Mayors' Council chair Jonathan Coté expressed hope a solution could be brokered.

"The vast majority of the region is very supportive of this approach," he said.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to continue our conversations with the City of Surrey and have them become a part of this process, but it definitely is a bit of a concern, and I think it'll be a concern for the provincial government as well."

Premier John Horgan originally promised to bring ride-hailing to B.C. by the end of 2017, but there have been a number of delays. Legislation has now been passed and several companies have applied to the Passenger Transportation Board for approval, with approvals expected by the end of the year. 

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