The City of Vancouver has passed its inaugural ride-hailing rules that will charge an anti-congestion levy for trips starting or ending in and around downtown as well as waive a new $100 licensing fee for electric cars or vehicles able to transport wheelchairs.
After hours of debate on Wednesday, councillors approved the staff recommendations to become the last major North American city to allow ride-hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber to operate. To counter a potential spike in traffic created by this nascent industry, Vancouver will charge 30 cents each time a ride-hailing vehicle drops or picks up a customer downtown or in the neighbourhoods surrounding that area between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Electric cars will only pay half that fee and vehicles able to take passengers in wheelchairs will be exempt. Taxis and limousines operating in the same core area of the city are not subject to the levy.
City manager Sadhu Johnston told councillors that, given provincial ride-hailing regulations came into force last month, it was important the new municipal rules be passed to cover the nine or more companies that have applied to operate in Metro Vancouver in the coming weeks.
“Looking at other cities, there are a lot of issues that come up as this new industry takes off and we really don’t want to be under the gun and not have the resources to do appropriate tracking, data management, understanding where they’re going changing things,” Mr. Johnston said.
To level the playing field, Mr. Johnston said, the city will reduce the annual licensing fees paid by taxi and limousine companies from $600 for each vehicle to the same $100 owed by ride-hailing companies. And again, those fees will be dropped for vehicles that are more accessible or generate zero emissions. As well, any company working in either sector will also have to pay $155 annually to operate in the city.
Vancouver’s municipal staff will also continue to work with the province and other communities in the region to work toward crafting a licensing regime for ride-hailing and limousine companies that travel from city to city.
City staff will also be tracking how this new regime works within the first few months and may adjust the congestion fees, he said.
Sarah Kirby-Yung was the lone councillor to vote against the rules, stating a regional solution is needed to oversee the ride-hailing sector.
“I don’t want to overregulate, it’s not Vancouver’s job to do that,” she said after the vote Wednesday afternoon. “Our job is to manage congestion.”
Last month, a coalition of nine taxi companies asked the B.C. Supreme Court to quash policies it says were illegally created for ride-hailing companies. The Metro Vancouver cab companies say in their petition that the provincial agency responsible had no authority to set binding guidelines for ride-hailing services before hearing individual applications to determine whether they should be issued a licence. The Transportation Minister said this legal challenge should not stop the roll out of ride-hailing across the province.
Ride-hailing company Lyft has said it will begin operating in Vancouver by the end of the year. Uber has said it will operate, at least initially, in the Lower Mainland by late 2019. Both companies had long fought to stop B.C.’s requirement that their drivers obtain the same licences as cabbies.
Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s executive in charge of its operations in Western Canada, said his company is concerned that Vancouver has created its own per-vehicle licensing fee, which is in contrast to all other jurisdictions across the country.
“In the end all fees are paid by riders,” he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press