Mayors’ Council takes regional approach to Metro Vancouver ride-hailing business licences

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The plan is to have an interim inter-municipal business licence in place by Jan. 31, and a full framework by the end of 2020.

Under pressure from the provincial government, TransLink is expediting plans to develop an inter-municipal business licence for ride-hailing companies planning to operate in Metro Vancouver.

The goal is to have an interim licence in place by the end of January, and a full framework developed by the end of next year.

TransLink staff and elected officials said on Thursday that if the transit authority didn’t quickly come up with a regional licence and the “patchwork” of business licences that are being put in place by municipalities across Metro continued to grow, there was a fear that the province could step in.

Members of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, with the exception of Surrey’s mayor, threw their support behind the regional approach at their meeting on Thursday.

“Over the last week, we’ve definitely had some communication from the province that is really urging us to speed up our efforts toward a regional system,” said Mayors’ Council chair Jonathan Coté, who is mayor of New Westminster. “I think we haven’t directly heard that they would necessarily take it over, but I think it’s definitely inferred in the conversations that we had that if the region isn’t able to work together on this that the province may have to step in.”

Provincial Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said in a statement that she is encouraging municipalities to work together on a single licence for the Lower Mainland, and maintained that she expects ride-hailing will be operational by Christmas.

If that is the case, then in the interim companies will have to abide by local bylaws and licensing requirements in order to operate.

The Passenger Transportation Board, which is responsible for regulating and licensing operators, is currently considering applications, and Trevena said she expects the board to issue decisions on a number of applications soon.

To date, 15 companies have applied to operate in Region 1, which includes Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Sea-to-Sky.

An inter-municipal licence would allow ride-hailing companies to operate freely in all municipalities with no restrictions, and allow picking up and dropping off as needed. It would include a single fee structure, to be determined, for Metro Vancouver, plus regional data collection.

TransLink would develop an interim regional licence and have it ready for individual councils to vote on by the end of January. Participation would be encouraged, but optional. Although TransLink only has authority in Metro Vancouver, other municipalities in the Region 1 operating area will be invited to adopt the inter-municipal licensing policy.

Local governments will be asked to ensure that if they already have business licence rules in place for ride-hailing, that theirs are consistent with the regional framework.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Vancouver, which in October became the first municipality in the Metro region to adopt regulations governing ride-hailing operators within the city, would be willing to lower its licensing fees, if necessary, to facilitate regional cooperation.

Stewart said it was important for the mayors to move on the issue before they lost jurisdiction to the provincial government.

“They are so keen to move ahead with this that if we hold it up in any way, we will lose our local ability to have any regulation over this industry,” he said.

The decision about whether to have an inter-municipal licence is an important governance and jurisdictional one, said Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall.

“This is a defining moment, I do believe, for this body in that we are regionally thinking. This isn’t individuals. We do come here to try and collaborate, and I believe we do have the opportunity to do that,” he said.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum reiterated his long-standing opposition to ride-hailing, saying the rules for taxis and ride-hailing companies are different.

“A large majority of our residents don’t support ride-hailing in Surrey. Basically, it is because it’s not a level playing field,” McCallum said.

Provincial regulations preclude municipalities from prohibiting ride-hailing or regulating the number ride-hailing vehicles operating in their municipality. They can, however, regulate companies using business licensing and street and traffic bylaws. McCallum said he did not support the idea of a regional business licence, but that his city is looking at developing its own licence.

A number of municipalities in the region have come up with ride-hailing business licences.

Vancouver’s will charge fees of $155 per company and $100 per vehicle, and there will also be a 30-cent charge for pickups and dropoffs between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. in the downtown core.

Companies that want to operate in Delta will have to pay an annual business licence fee plus $25 per car, and in Burnaby they will need to pay $510 per car. Richmond plans to charge each vehicle $132. Tri-Cities municipalities have developed a sub-regional business licence that includes a 10-cent fee per ride.

The airport and the University of B.C. are confirming access agreements for operators that will include provisions similar to Vancouver’s. TransLink is assessing the management of pickup and drop-off areas at its stations, and in the interim will allow ride-hailing companies to use those areas.

In a statement, Uber’s head of Western Canada Michael van Hemmen said he supports a regional business licence for Metro Vancouver. He anticipates it could take up to a week after the company receives approval from the Passenger Transportation Board to get cars on the road.

A spokesperson for Lyft said in an email that the company is pleased about the Mayors’ Council decision.

“We look forward to continuing conversations around both the interim and long-term regional approach with Metro Vancouver local governments to understand how we can best serve the needs of their residents and visitors,” they said.

jensaltman@postmedia.com

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