The Uber app — Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unslpash
The Uber app — Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unslpash

Halifax councillors have sent new rules governing ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to their final stop.

Amendments to the city’s taxi bylaw passed first reading at council’s meeting on Tuesday. The amendments will allow ride-hailing companies, or as city staff call them transportation network companies (TNCs) to set up shop in Halifax.

The rules would require the companies to buy licences with the city, but their drivers would be licensed by the TNCs — unlike taxi drivers, who are licensed directly with the city.

The TNCs would buy an annual licence for between $2,000 and $25,000, depending on the number of vehicles in their fleet. Councillors asked for the graduated fee system to make it easier for local start-up companies to operate. A company with one to 10 vehicles would pay $2,000, while one with 100 or more would pay $25,000, with steps in between.

While the city wouldn’t licence the drivers, the TNCs would be required to report any safety issues or criminal charges to the city, and drivers who are suspended or banned from driving taxis wouldn’t be permitted to drive for TNCs — and vice versa.

The drivers would also be subject to annual criminal record checks, vulnerable sector checks and child abuse registry checks.

Uber took issue with the three types of checks, arguing in a memo to councillors that running an annual vulnerable sector check is “redundant as the annual criminal record check would capture any new criminal charges or convictions long before they would appear on a VSC as having been pardoned.”

The memorandum, written by Uber public policy manager Jake Brockman, also takes issue with subjecting drivers to child abuse registry checks:

Finally, Uber submits that child abuse registry (CAR) check should only be required if a TNC Driver is going to be transporting unaccompanied minors. A similar approach was recently adopted in Orillia, Ontario, and is sound public policy as there is no need to subject a prospective driver to the more intrusive and time-consuming CAR check if they are only ever going to be transporting adults aged 18+.

Halifax licensing manager Hilary Hayes told council on Tuesday that the city can’t guarantee the drivers won’t be transporting unaccompanied minors, and the checks pick up people who might not have criminal records, but could’ve been added by a judge anyway.

In response to Uber’s lobbying, Coun. Tony Mancini moved an amendment for vulnerable sector checks every two years, to match the frequency with which taxi drivers are subject to those checks. The amendment failed.

Uber also took issue with the city’s requirement that they submit their trip data, which it said “raises extreme privacy and cybersecurity concerns.” The new rules ask the same of taxi dispatchers, who will now be licensed and pay annual fees.

Most councillors weren’t as concerned with Uber’s problems as they were with the fact that the city won’t be able to charge a planned per-trip fee.

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.

There’s another provincial issue keeping the city waiting, too. Uber lobbyists previously asked the city to do away with a requirement for drivers to hold a Class 4 licence to operate. Class 4 is a small step above the standard Class 5, and is required for taxi drivers. Uber believes it will reduce the number of drivers willing to use the platform.

While Uber has registered two lobbyists provincially, according to the registry, the provincial government hasn’t given the city an answer on that point either. As a work-around, the new bylaw amendments leave it open, requiring taxi and TNC drivers to hold whichever licence is required for vehicle-for-hire drivers generally.

Also included in the new rules is a new appeals process for complaints against taxi drivers. Currently those appeals, typically for alleged sexual assaults by drivers, are handled by council’s appeals standing committee. The amendments would create a new committee of three people with experience in administrative law. One of them would hear each appeal and make a decision.

The bylaw amendments passed first reading on Tuesday. They’re likely to be back for second reading at a meeting in September, and then become law.

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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  1. Well at least the Council is looking at putting some rules and fees in place for ride haling services. Something that has not happened with Airbnb and other un regulated short term accommodations.