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Halifax council gives green light to ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft

- Reuters
HALIFAX, N.S. —

Transportation networking companies like Uber and Lyft have passed a long-awaited stop signal at Halifax regional council.

Council eventually voted 16-1 to have the chief administrative officer prepare bylaw amendments to regulate the ride-sharing networks and introduce new licensing requirements for brokers.

Part of the motion was to have Mayor Mike Savage write a letter to the province requesting required amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act to allow the municipality to charge the ride-sharing companies a per-trip fee.

“Staff recommend the introduction of licensing fees based on the fees levied in other jurisdictions,” Hilary Hayes, municipal supervisor of licensing, said in a staff presentation in support of the networking companies.

“Staff suggested rates of an annual $25,000 is appropriate.”

Annual fees

An annual fee of $300 would also be charged to brokers, who would be required to share data that would include trips provided, the number of drivers, number of vehicles and pickup and drop-off locations and the average wait to be called into action.

Coun. Waye Mason (Halifax South-Downtown) added a successful amendment to the main motion, saying the flat $25,000 fee would be prohibitive to smaller, new entrants into the business.

Hayes said the $25,000 fee was settled on to accommodate networking companies with 100 vehicles or more, the expectation of staff for any company coming into the area.

“We are open to changing it to a smaller, tiered system,” she said.

Mason’s successful amendment was for a tiered fee of $2,000 for a company with 10 or more vehicles, $5,000 for more than 25 vehicles, $15,000 for 26 to 100 vehicles and $125,000 for a fleet of 100-plus vehicles.

The time-consuming part of council’s discussion was about the type of licence that would be required for a network company driver, even though that licence designation will be determined by the province, not the municipality.

The original motion had the entry-level Class 5 driver’s licence attached to it, but councillors thought that a Class 4 licence that requires two years of driving experience, a driving test with the kind of vehicle that the licensee will operate and a periodical medical test would be more appropriate. The province dictates that Class 4 licences are required to drive taxis and buses.

Criminal record checks

The staff report also stipulated that the car-sharing company would be responsible for hiring drivers and ensuring that they complete a criminal record check, vulnerable sector check and child abuse registry check.

Coun. Sam Austin (Dartmouth Centre) said that part of the public survey that supported ride shares said that passengers felt a ride share would be safer than travelling in a taxi.

“We’ve had issues with cabs but it is inevitable that if we have ride sharing that there will at some point unfortunately be an assault in an Uber or a Lyft in this town,” Austin said. “One of the principal differences in what is being proposed and taxis is that we would be licensing the company, we will not be licensing drivers.'

Austin wondered why the companies should be trusted to police drivers.

“If you are a taxi driver and you are suspended because of whatever the offence is, you get kicked out of driving cabs. What’s to say that you can’t now turn around under these rules and become an Uber driver and you’d be back on the road with the same hours you had.”

Hayes said criminal record checks would show up on the network companies’ radar, but Austin replied that the municipality can suspend cab drivers for any inappropriate behaviour, whether it crosses the line into criminality or not.

“It doesn’t sound like with the ride-sharing piece that would apply.”

Hayes agreed that it would not.

Austin moved a successful motion that a list of suspended or removed drivers be shared across the taxi and ride-share businesses.

Municipal levy

The staff recommendation included the collection of a 20-cent per-trip fee by the municipality, seven cents of which would be allocated to an accessible transportation fund. Coun. Shawn Cleary (Halifax West-Armdale) moved successfully for a supplementary staff report on increasing the per-trip fee by a couple of cents to be used for overall sustainable transportation funding.

Coun. Richard Zurawski (Timberlea-Clayton Park-Wedgewood) later made a motion for a staff report on mandating that incoming networking companies use only efficient electric and hybrid vehicles. That motion transformed into a Cleary motion that the directive be added into the HalifACT 2050 climate crisis plan, a plan that council heard an update on earlier in the day. The final HalifACT 2050 plan will be presented this spring.

Coun. Matt Whitman (Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets), a longtime proponent of bringing the car-sharing companies to HRM, said Class 4 licensing and talk of electric and hybrid vehicle restrictions will ensure that Uber or Lyft do not come to the municipality.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher,” a frustrated Whitman said. “This is not going to come to fruition.”

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