City of Vancouver's new policies could cripple rideshare across the region

Oct 17 2019, 2:07 pm

There is a significant risk that ridehailing services operating in Metro Vancouver could be incapacitated from operating as true regional services as a result of new policies approved by the City of Vancouver earlier this month.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West is amongst a group of local mayors who are sounding the alarm over the potential regional “domino effect” of the City of Vancouver proceeding with its own municipal business licences for ridehailing, instead of cooperating with other municipal governments to allow ridehailing companies to operate as a true regional service as intended by the province’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB).

The new municipal policies on ridehailing services are technically permitted under the framework established by the PTB, as the municipal fees are deemed as relatively nominal — set at levels that would not restrict or prohibit ridehailing companies from operating in the city. To operate in Vancouver, ridehailing companies would have to pay a $155 annual company licence, plus a $100 annual licence per vehicle.

But with Vancouver setting its own policies and fee structures, other municipal governments may soon decide to create their own municipal business licence requirements.

The resulting annual fees enforced by a single municipality are certainly insignificant, but West says if other municipal governments decide to follow Vancouver’s model, the combined total of annual fees across multiple municipalities could rise to exorbitant levels. As a result, ridehailing in the region could be hampered in the same way the effectiveness of the taxi system has been held back by municipal boundaries and business licences.

“My concerns are that by going at it alone, Vancouver is really setting the stage for a lot of dysfunction throughout the region when it comes to ridehailing,” West told Daily Hive in an interview.

“So now the requirement is $100 to drive in Vancouver, and I think the domino effect is that other municipalities will think, ‘oh, well Vancouver is charging $100 for a business licence per vehicle, so we have to get our pound of flesh too. If they’re doing it, then we have to do it too.’ Then the next municipality does it, and so on and so forth.”

The resulting “complete hodgepodge system of fees” across Metro Vancouver from municipal governments “trying to chase the other” will make ridehailing services unfeasible, he says.

Facing a complex system of fees to operate in municipalities, West believes there will be real winners and losers for municipalities in the region when it comes to their level of ridehailing service coverage.

He says it is likely drivers will pick and choose select municipalities with the greatest potential for their business based on city size, population density, and whether they have key points of interest.

“The logical thing to do, if I were a driver, would be to pay the fees to operate in Vancouver and Richmond, so that I have downtown and the airport covered,” said West, emphasizing that suburban municipalities in the outlying areas of the region will lose out on ridehailing, even though they are the jurisdictions that stand to benefit most.

“I know people in my community are sick to not being able to get back to Port Coquitlam from downtown Vancouver or maybe from Braid SkyTrain Station to their home because of the very poor taxi service we have out in this area and the lack of public transit options… Cities like Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, and Langley are really the communities that are most in need of that sort of last mile service.”

West wants a “common sense” approach of a single regional business licence, ideally facilitated and implemented by TransLink and its Mayors’ Council, but he is concerned that regional cooperation is now much less likely given the decision by Vancouver city council.

A regional approach through TransLink would also align ridehailing with the region’s overall transportation plans.

If a single regional business licence is no longer possible because of Vancouver’s business licence, and potentially additional business licences enforced by other municipalities, West says he will spearhead a unified business licence for ridehailing between municipalities in the northeast sector — Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Anmore, and Belcarra.

Such a unified northeast sector business licence could be modelled after the existing cross-jurisdictional business licence that allows tradespeople to work in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam.

“I just shake my head at this idea that if we can’t get our act together in the region, it is going to confirm everyone’s worst inclinations and thoughts about having 21 separate municipalities and jurisdictions,” added West.

“This is one of those moments where our residents across the region are looking at us for leadership.”