Municipal staff say it is “inevitable” that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft will make their way to the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and that the municipality should begin an in-depth look to prepare for their arrival.
Those details are found in a 115-page report headed to the municipality’s Transporation Standing Committee on Tuesday and are based on a citizens survey conducted this past fall for the city as part of a review of the HRM’s taxi industry.
The review was carried out by the Ottawa-based Hara Associates.
The survey found that 88 per cent of the more than 13,400 people who responded to the survey said they wanted Uber or Lyft to operate in the HRM, while 73 per cent said they would feel safer using those services than taking a traditional cab.
“Citizen response through the survey is clear in their desire for better service and in wanting Uber, Lyft, etc.,” the report reads.
“It is inevitable that ride sourcing will come to the region as it has to all major destinations in Canada.”
The report recommends that the municipality begin considering how it will allow ride-sharing services — called Transportation Network Companies (TNC) in the report — but say that the issue is so complex that a separate report is necessary.
A ‘complex’ issue
HRM staff say it is not as simple as giving ride-sharing services permission to operate within the municipality.
Instead, they recommend that the municipality implement a licensing system for brokers/dispatchers, increasing licensing fees, and create a system that would involve reporting information to the municipality.
A Hara Associates survey found several advantages in allowing ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft:
- The convenience of an app
- A built-in driver and passenger rating system
- Ease of payment as TNCs allow fees to be automatically charged to credit cards
- TNCs offer significantly lower prices than taxis during off-peak periods
However, the survey also noted a number of disadvantages:
- Most Nova Scotia drivers possess a class 5 licence while taxis and limousines need a class 4 licence
- The report says that criminal record checks should be an important process in allowing TNCs but it’s not immediately clear who would be conducting or carrying out the checks
- Questions remain over how much commercial insurance TNCs should carry
- It is unclear the impact on existing taxi and limousine services will be
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Addressing accessibility and diversity in the taxi industry
The report also touches on two topics that have created headlines in the municipality — the limited number of accessible taxis and the possibility of an all-female taxi service.
The report says that both can be addressed through the municipality’s licensing system.
Currently, there are 36 female drivers licensed while there 25 females with taxi owner licences. Although there is no waitlist for taxi driver’s licences there is one for owner licences.
There are 13 females who have been on the waiting list for five years.
“We’re never going to get as many females drivers as there are male drivers, but I would like to see that number up so that when a client does call casino, is there any chance you can send me a lady driver? Well maybe the chances are a little better now,” said Chrissy McDow, the ower Lady Drive Her, a taxi service specifically for women.
Although no other jurisdiction in Canda has a gender-based category for taxi owner licenses, the survey says there is support for an all-female taxi service with 66 per cent of residents saying they would use it.
As a result, staff recommends increasing owner licences from 1,000 to 1,600 in order to improve gender diversity and to reduce the wait list.
The report found that there are 16 accessible taxi owner licences in the HRM but that there have been as many as 57 of those licences in the city.
It is recommended that the municipality implement a financial incentive in order to improve the number of accessible taxis.
Dave Buffet, president of the Halifax Regional Municipality Taxi Association, is wary of that proposal.
“The only reason we have any accessible taxis is because drivers don’t want to wait in the queue for the rooflight arrangement so therefore they buy accessible taxis which cost typically over $30,000,” he said. “A lot of them are $40,000 or $50,000.”
Under current regulations, Uber could operate in Halifax as a dispatcher, like Casino or Yellow, but they would have to employ people with taxi owner licences.
These owner licences, which are different from personal cab licences, are tied to a vehicle and are required for any cab in the municipality, but the wait list to get one is hundreds of names long.
For a company like Uber to operate in the municipality with a ride-share model, the municipality’s regulations would need to change.
Halifax’s taxi laws haven’t been changed since 1994.
With files from Alicia Draus