Ridesharing companies are getting uber-close to their Halifax debut

But approval from the province could put a snag in the process.

Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are one step closer to hitting the streets of Halifax now that new regulations for vehicles-for-hire have passed through regional council, but concerns about safety are still on the table.

Council passed a motion during Tuesday's meeting to allow several new changes to HRM by-laws surrounding licensing for both taxi services and transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber

Among those changes are the introduction of a $300 licensing fee for taxi brokers (think Yellow Cab and Casino Taxi), and a multi-tiered fee for TNCs capping out at $25,000 for companies with more than 100 cars in operation. (Between $2,000 and $25,000, depending on how many cars the company has on the road.)

The by-laws would also require that both taxis and rideshare companies report back to the municipality with data on total numbers of trips, drivers and cars, as well as pick up and drop off locations and wait-times for a call to be acted on. 

The municipality will also ask the province for permission to collect a per-trip fee from rideshare companies, meant to offset administrative costs. That fee, originally set at $0.20 per ride, would include a $0.07 contribution to an accessibility fund to be used for “various accessible transportation programs,” according to the report.

This $0.20 fee could still change though, as Councillor Shawn Cleary asked staff to look into the possibility of an additional fee to be spent on transit and active transportation in an effort to offset the effect of having more cars on the road.

Cleary noted that the municipality's Integrated Mobility Plan aims to decrease the percentage of in-car commuters from 77 per cent to 70 per cent by 2031, and cited research from the University of Colorado that showed an 83.5 per cent increase in vehicle miles travelled when rideshares come to town.

“It cannibalizes transit and active transportation,” Cleary said Tuesday, noting also that this discussion came hot on the heels of an update to Halifax’s climate emergency plan.

Along the same vein, Councillor Richard Zurawski requested council look into the possibility of mandating electric and hybrid fleets for both taxis and rideshares.

While these changes mark the latest step towards getting Uber and Lyft rolling in HRM, councillors anticipate some obstacles may still be to come.

Council was slated to ask the province to allow TNCs to employ drivers with Class 5 licenses instead of the provincially mandated, and more strict, Class 4 for taxi drivers, but that request was nixed by a narrow vote during Tuesday's debate.

The difference between a Class 4 and Class 5 license comes down to safety—drivers with a Class 4 must be at least 18 years old, have had their Class 5 for at least a year, pass medical tests and take an additional written and driving exam. 

"Anyone driving a truck delivering bread and butter and groceries has to have one," said Councillor Steve Streatch. "This is all about an added level of safety."

Councillor Matt Whitman told council that Uber and Lyft have been "crystal clear" they won't come to Halifax if the Class 4 requirement stands. Uber already operates in some areas with Class 4 rules in place but there's no guarantee it'll operate in Halifax without the change. 

Staff noted that a citizen survey with 13,400 participants, saw 88 percent of respondents say they wanted to see Uber in Halifax, and a majority of respondents said Uber or Lyft would make them feel safer.

With this week's approval and amendments, HRM staff will write the new by-laws, which will return to council once more. But ultimately, the decision about mandatory licenses for taxi drivers and rideshare drivers isn’t under council’s control, and will fall on the province to decide.

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