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B.C. government won’t get involved in taxi boundary debate as Metro Vancouver prepares for ride-hailing business licence

The Uber App is pictured on a smartphone in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, December 30, 2019. British Columbia's Passenger Transportation Board has granted long-awaited licensing approvals to ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft for service in the Lower Mainland and Whistler. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward.
The Uber App is pictured on a smartphone in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, December 30, 2019. British Columbia's Passenger Transportation Board has granted long-awaited licensing approvals to ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft for service in the Lower Mainland and Whistler. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says she will not wade into the debate over whether municipal taxi boundaries should be scrapped in Metro Vancouver.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal have raised concerns about the regional boundaries and have indicated approval of an inter-municipal business licence (IMBL) for all of Metro Vancouver is contingent on making the change.

“The decision on boundaries is up to the Passenger Transportation Board,” Trevena said. “They have indicated they will be looking at it in the future but haven’t indicated when.”

“I think the independent passenger board knows that the boundary issue continues to be one that is divisive in the taxi industry.”

READ MORE: Ride-hailing companies worried about mounting municipal business licences in B.C.

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The Vancouver Taxi Association is opposed to eliminating the boundaries.

Time is running out to receive clarity on the issue as municipalities are set to begin voting on whether they support the IMBL. The plan is to have the licence available on April 1 and councils will have to make a decision by then.

A City of Vancouver staff report released on Wednesday details plans to streamline licensing across the region by setting one licence fee. Currently, municipalities have individual business licences. The City of Surrey has refused to create a business licence for ride-hailing.

Vancouver city council is expected to vote on the proposal next Tuesday.

READ MORE: Ride-hailing companies worried about mounting municipal business licences in B.C.

“Participating municipalities will bring reports to their councils in February and March 2020 recommending approval of the by-laws as presented,” the staff report reads.

“If approved, the IMBL will take effect on April 1, 2020. For any participating municipalities that enact the by-law after April 1, 2020, the licence will take effect in that municipality on the day of enactment.”

The proposal calls for ride-hailing companies to pay a $155 annual per-company fee and an additional $150 charge per vehicle. The $150 fee would be waived for wheelchair-accessible vehicles and reduced to $30 for zero-emission vehicles.

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In January, McCallum pledged his support for an IMBL, but made it clear he wanted to change the rules for taxi companies.

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“By having a single ride-hailing business licence for the region, this will eliminate duplication, confusion, and waste of time and money for both those issuing and seeking a licence,” McCallum said in January.

“I have not budged from my position that a level playing field must be in place for ride-hailing and taxi companies to compete in. My fight is about ensuring fair competition in a highly regulated industry.”

McCallum says the Passenger Transportation Board must make changes to improve things for taxi companies and drivers. He is asking for a review of taxi boundaries, fleet caps, insurance requirements, and that ride-hailing vehicles provide accessible services for all customers.

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READ MORE: Uber launches legal action against Surrey over city’s plan to fine drivers

The City of Surrey was handing out $500 fines for Uber drivers who were operating without a licence. B.C. Supreme Court ruled the city was legally not allowed to do that.

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So far Uber, Lyft and Kabu-Ride have been approved to operate in the Lower Mainland. Only Uber and Lyft are currently operating.

Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr says the region needs to approve the licence.

“I think that regional licensing is the way to go. But I think we have big issues to tackle in terms of how green the fleet will be and how many cars there will be,” Carr said.

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“We are trying to incentivize the companies to have green vehicles.”