Calgary council approves relief for businesses, taxis, rideshares

Contruction on 17 Avenue S.W. in Calgary has concluded for the season. File/Global News

Calgary businesses will be getting some relief to start the second quarter, relief that will continue into 2022.

Monday, city council voted to waive fees for new business licences and renewals.

Read more: Council to consider waiving business licence fees in Calgary for 2021; pair want extension to 2022

In a separate agenda item, council also voted to change the bylaw governing taxis, limos and rideshare drivers.

Starting in 2022, drivers of all three types of vehicles will have to take city safety training, many of the fees for operators will be reduced and all rideshares will need visible company decals. And effective immediately, taxis will be able to charge fees upfront.

Last week, council approved waiving between 50 and 100 per cent of licensing fees for taxi, limo and rideshare drivers, covered by the city’s COVID-related emergency fund.

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Read more: Taxis and limos face reduced fees under proposed changes to Calgary bylaw

Funds for the waived business licence fees comes from $30 million city council earmarked on March 1 for “directed relief to businesses impacted by COVID-19.”

“I’m very happy that council was able to set aside some money to help businesses who are struggling at this time,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

City officials estimate it would cost $8.8 million per year to waive the fees. With $17.6 million going to fee relief, that leaves about $12.4 million for other assistance like grants.

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Nenshi said he would to see more “targeted” relief efforts rather than “spreading the peanut better thin.”

“What we ended up doing was giving every Superstore and Wal-Mart $200 as well as $200 to your neighborhood hair salon,” Nenshi said.

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“But I understand the council was interested in moving quickly rather than spending a lot of time figuring out how to help that hair salon.”

City administration expects to present firmed-up options for the second phase of business relief in May.

A quick guide on how the changes to Calgary’s Transport Livery Bylaw (affecting taxis, limos and rideshares) will impact drivers and customers, presented to city council on March 22, 2021. handout / City of Calgary

Three options include grants for small businesses, supports for businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, and supports for all businesses impacted by the pandemic.

“This is the one thing we heard loud and clear is that this has got to be a bit more of a longer-term solution,” Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison told council.

Read more: ‘Difficult’ decisions needed to save City of Calgary money: consultant

Davison said the approach approved by council is “widely supported across the business sectors, including the chamber.”

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Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he’s seen the pandemic have different impacts on businesses within his ward.

“What I have noticed on the main streets (and) in the industrial areas, is that it is unbelievably varied in terms of how different businesses are weathering this global pandemic,” Carra said “Some are having the best years ever, some are holding steady and some are really, really in pain and hurting.”

Read more: Calgary Economic Development says loss of Shaw head office disappoints but regional office eases pain

Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland, who brought the approved amendment to double the time the city waived business licence fees, said 95 per cent of all businesses in Calgary are small businesses — the enterprises the measure is meant to help.

“This will help anybody in the next two years that is going to open up a new business,” Sutherland said. “It can mean, especially when they’re small businesses, that that dollar amount (up to $1,280) is a salary for one or two employees for a week.”

“It is spreading it out, but it does make a difference and it sends a very strong message to the business community.”

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