Ride hailing is operating in Toronto and other North American cities, but B.C. hasn’t licensed any services yet. (Flickr)

B.C. to add hundreds of taxis, delays Uber, Lyft-style service again

Ride hailing companies have to wait until fall of 2019 to apply for licences

The B.C. government is moving to update taxi regulations for the new era of smartphone-based ride hailing, adding new taxi licences and putting off competitors like Uber and Lyft until late 2019 at the earliest.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced Thursday she is accepting recommendations from an independent consultant, starting with adding up to 300 more cabs in the Lower Mainland and another 200 across the province.

The B.C. government needs to amend six pieces of outdated legislation this fall before it can accept applications under a new licensing system, Trevena told a news conference in Vancouver. Applications from competing services should be accepted by the end of 2019, but altering vehicle insurance regulations “might take a little bit longer,” Trevena said.

With Metro Vancouver the last major metropolitan area in North America that still doesn’t allow ride hailing, Trevena said B.C. is unique in its tangle of municipal and provincial regulations, plus the “independent” Passenger Transportation Board to grant licences.

In the last election campaign, the NDP promised regulations to allow private ride hailing by the end of 2017. Trevena later put that off until the end of 2018, and the latest announcement could take the actual arrival of services to compete with taxis into 2020.

RELATED: Pressure on for ride hailing, bus options

Transportation consultant Dan Hara described the overlapping jurisdiction for taxi operators, where applicants have to show a need for more service and competitors can oppose the application. Municipalities also have a role, and a taxi operator may have to apply for a half dozen municipal operating permits, each requiring a personal appearance, Hara said.

The restrictions also affect taxis accessible for people with disabilities, which cost more to buy and operate. Hara suggests the province consider subsidizing accessible taxis for smaller communities, where scarce taxi licensed haven’t been bid up to six figure amounts by taxi companies.

In urban areas, “taxi operators willingly pay the extra $35,000 to $50,000 for an accessible taxi if it comes with a taxi licence that is worth substantially more on the private market,” the report states.

Taxi companies will also be given the ability to offer discount fares if they are ordered through the company’s smartphone app, Trevena said.

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