The Uber app. Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

New rules allowing ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Halifax are coming to the next meeting of regional council.

Coun. Lorelei Nicoll, chair of council’s transportation standing committee, gave notice at the end of last week’s council meeting that she’ll move first reading of amendments to the city’s taxi bylaw at the next meeting, on Aug. 18:

Take notice that, at the next meeting of Halifax Regional Council to be held on August 18, 2020, I propose to:

  1. Move First Reading of proposed By-law T-1004, amending By-law T-1000, Respecting the Regulation of Taxis, Accessible Taxis and Limousines, the purpose of which is to include the regulation and licensing of Transportation Network Companies and brokers and the creation of a new appeal committee to hear all appeals relative to licenses issued to brokers, independent brokers and Transportation Network Companies, as well as taxis, accessible taxis and limousines; and
  2. Move amendments to Administrative Order 15, Respecting License, Permit and Processing Fees, the purpose of which is to reflect the above changes in section 6B of Schedule A with the fees pursuant to the newly amended by-law T-1000.

The rules are the second phase of the transformation of the city’s vehicle-for-hire industry — which multiple councillors have described as “broken” — following a consultant’s report tabled in February 2019. The first phase added 600 taxi licences to the city’s 1,000, did away with old zones, and beefed up background checks. This second phase allows ride-hailing companies, which the consultant and staff call Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs.

The staff report and new bylaw amendments won’t be released until Aug. 14, but the rules are a response to a council motion in January, directing staff to go ahead and write them.

The Halifax Examiner reported in the lead-up to that vote:

Council’s transportation standing committee voted in December to send proposed regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber up to council, recommending in favour.

Under the new rules, ride-hailing companies would pay a $25,000 annual fee, plus a 20-cent fee per trip. Drivers would be licensed by their employers, and subject to criminal record, vulnerable sector, and child abuse registry checks. They’d also be required, like taxi drivers, to hold a Class 4 drivers’ licence — a step above the usual Class 5.

An Uber lobbyist told the transportation standing committee the per-trip fee was too high, calling it “cost-prohibitive” and said the licensing and vulnerable sector checks were “onerous.”

At the meeting, council amended the motion and voted in favour — despite warnings from one Uber enthusiast that the city will never be able to get a Lyft:

Council voted 16-1 to direct staff to start drafting bylaw amendments, with only Coun. Matt Whitman voting no. The motion came with a few amendments, asking for extra staff reports on a tiered fee system, a quasi-licensing scheme for ride-hailing drivers, and an increase in fees to pay for active transportation infrastructure, along with deleting a request to the province to allow drivers to have an easier-to-obtain licence.

Under the rules proposed by staff, ride-hailing companies would pay a $25,000 annual fee, plus a 20-cent fee per trip. Drivers would be licensed by their employers, and subject to criminal record, vulnerable sector, and child abuse registry checks. They’d also be required, like taxi drivers, to hold a Class 4 drivers’ licence — a step above the usual Class 5.

Lobbyists for Uber and Lyft have been after councillors to lessen most of those requirements, with Lyft’s representatives speaking to councillors most recently, on Tuesday morning.

Whitman told his fellow councillors that ride-hailing won’t be coming to Halifax if drivers have to have a Class 4 licence, which means medical testing and an age requirement of 18.

The motion coming in August also creates a new committee to hear licence-related appeals.

The new appeal committee will remove councillors from the decision-making process. Council’s appeals standing committee now deals with the appeals — including one this week — almost always due to a driver being charged with sexual assault. The new committee will comprise three people with some experience in administrative law rather than six councillors.

The new rules also licence the taxi dispatchers like Casino and Yellow as brokers, requiring an annual fee of $300, and mean that independent drivers either have to join one of the brokers or pay the fee and become their own broker.

Following first reading, the new rules will come to another meeting for second reading before becoming law and opening the door to ride-hailing.

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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