Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have received their final green light to start operating in Halifax.
Regional council voted 13-4 in favour of taxi bylaw amendments to regulate ride-hailing companies, which the municipality calls transportation network companies, or TNCs, during its virtual meeting on Tuesday.
Councillors Lindell Smith, Shawn Cleary, Stephen Adams and Richard Zurawski voted no.
The regulations require ride-hailing companies to buy an annual licence for between $2,000 and $25,000, depending on the number of vehicles in their fleet. A company with one to 10 vehicles will pay $2,000, while one with 100 or more will pay $25,000, with steps in between.
Unlike the taxi system, the companies themselves will licence the drivers. The companies will have to report safety issues or criminal charges to the city, and drivers who are suspended or banned from driving taxis would be barred from driving for ride-hailing companies — and vice versa.
The drivers will also have to pass criminal record checks, vulnerable sector checks and child abuse registry checks, which as the Halifax Examiner reported following first reading of the bylaw amendments last month, Uber took issue with, arguing in a memo to councillors that the checks were redundant.
The new rules are now law, but the municipality will presumably take some time to set up its licensing system before ride-hailing companies can pay their fees and get drivers on the road.
Two of the councillors who voted no on Tuesday made an attempt during first reading to defer the amendments until Halifax could charge a per-trip fee. As we reported last month:
That fee would be 25 cents per trip, charged to all TNCs. Twenty cents, proposed by staff, would pay for a new accessible taxi subsidy program and the staffing required to manage the new ride-hailing and taxi trip data. The other five cents, added by council, would go toward funding active transportation infrastructure, recognizing that ride-hailing has a tendency to increase the number of vehicles on the road.
“We know from the evidence everywhere that we have Uber and Lyft and other TNCs active, vehicle miles travelled goes up. Fewer people ride bicycles, fewer people walk because those get cannibalized by very easy, very cheap transportation,” said Coun. Shawn Cleary.
But to charge the fee, the city needs legislative permission from the provincial government. It asked for it in February and hasn’t even heard back.
“If we don’t get an answer on the per-trip fee, I don’t see how this stool stands up. It is probably the most important leg in making sure we have a sustainable city moving forward,” Cleary said.
Coun. Richard Zurawski made a motion to defer first reading of the bylaw pending a staff report on how the ride-hailing regulations conform to the city’s climate change goals in the HalifACT 2050 report. Coun. Sam Austin added to that motion to wait till the province responds to the request for legislative authority to charge the per-trip fee before moving ahead with first reading.
“I don’t think there’s any guarantee that the province will actually act on this. We’ve had no response from them,” Austin said.
“This will drive down transit ridership. This will drive down active transportation. That’s a given, It’s hard to square that with the convenience and the fact that people want this.”
The Zurawski-Austin motion failed.
The bylaw amendments passed Tuesday also create a new committee to handle taxi licensing appeals. Up to now, council’s appeals standing committee has handled those appeals — deciding whether to give drivers charged with sexual assault and other violent offences their licences back.
The new process will take the decision-making away from councillors, tasking a committee of three people with experience in administrative law with deciding whether to allow those appeals.