Two multi-billion dollar ride-sharing companies indicate they’re considering expanding their services to Nova Scotia after the provincial government announced it is introducing a “modern” drivers licence.
Uber and Lyft say they’re happy after the province’s transportation department announced on Thursday a plan to create a “Class 4” licence that will no longer require holders to retake the province’s road and knowledge tests.
A spokesperson for Uber said the announcement by the province means “Halifax is now open for ridesharing.”
“We look forward to sharing more about our local plans with Haligonians in the very near future,” the spokesperson said.
Lyft was in agreement.
“The City of Halifax and the Ministry of Transportation have demonstrated how intently they’ve been listening to all stakeholders with these new amendments, which represent a milestone to help get ridesharing in the great province of Nova Scotia,” said a spokesperson for the company.
“It is clear residents want additional transportation options and we are exploring our options for bringing Lyft to more communities in Canada in the future.”
Both companies had indicated that requiring its drivers to have a Class 4 licence would serve as a barrier to them entering the Halifax Regional Municipality, the largest potential market in the province.
A Class 4 licence is more specialized than the basic Class 5 licence held by most drivers in the province.
Currently, a Class 4 is required by any individual wanting to operate a cab.
The province’s announcement on Thursday promises to save Class 4 licence holders a $68 testing fee.
“Exempting drivers from the additional testing will also simplify the licensing process of upgrading from a Class 5 to Class 4 restricted,” the province said in a press release.
“The changes should help open the sector to healthy competition, reduce unnecessary regulatory burden and ensure our roads continue to be safe by keeping the medical requirement, which strikes a balance between business growth passenger safety,” said Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines in a press release.
“This is especially important in our rapidly growing metro areas and in underserviced areas across rural Nova Scotia.”
All other requirements for a Class 4 licence, including a medical assessment, will remain, the province said.
A standard Class 4 licence, including a knowledge and road test, will continue to be required to drive an ambulance or small buses with 24 or fewer passengers
The changes take effect immediately.
The province portrayed the move as “reducing costs and administrative burdens taxi and ride-hailing services.”
It’s a move that shouldn’t surprise those who’ve been paying attention to a sustained lobbying campaign from Uber, which has two lobbyists registered with the province and has made repeated contact with municipal councillors.
The Nova Scotia government confirmed to Global News on Thursday that it was set to make the ride-hailing announcement in February before it was abruptly cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
The province’s decision to announce the new licensing policy comes in response to a decision made by Halifax Regional Council this week.
On Tuesday, the governing body of the HRM passed a series of bylaw amendments that would permit ride-sharing services to operate in the municipality, although those services must adhere to certain restrictions.
One of the requirement is a licensing fee that each company — which the municipality refers to as Transportation Network Companies or TNCs — will be required to pay.
How much they have to pay depends on how many vehicles a company has in its service. The costs range from as low as $2,000 for those that have up to 10 vehicles to as high as $25,000 for more than 100 vehicles.
But the province has ended any attempts by the HRM to charge a $.25 per-trip fee to TNCs.
The municipality would’ve needed the province to modify Nova Scotia’s Motor Vehicle Act in order to do so, something that was explicitly rejected by the province in a statement provided to Global News.
“A per-trip fee increases undue regulatory burden on the industry. It will add cost to customers and create undue administrative burden to the company,” said Megan Tonet, a spokesperson for the transportation department.
But that fee would’ve been used to pay for a new subsidized accessible taxi program, the staffing needed to manage the new ride-hailing and taxi trip data collected by the municipality and funding active transportation infrastructure which would’ve been used to offset a likely increase in the number of vehicles on the road.