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Ride sharing still faces a bumpy road

Daniel Fontaine: Provincial approval – while difficult – is just the first step. Next comes navigating the patchwork of Metro Vancouver licensing and fee structures.
Jonathan Weiss /

Just when you thought it was safe to download your Uber or Lyft app, city hall has found yet another way of putting a monkey wrench into those plans.

Ride sharing companies already face incredible hurdles to get their operations up and running in BC – and now they need to overcome what city hall is throwing their way. Or perhaps, I should rephrase that: over 20 city halls.

Ever heard the old adage “you can’t fight city hall”? Now just imagine what companies like Uber and Lyft must be thinking as the 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver are tripping over themselves, figuring out how they’re going to either cash in on ride sharing – or in the case of one city, how they can use local regulations to keep this service off the streets altogether.

Now that ride sharing is on the verge of becoming legal in BC, city politicians appear to have finally awoken to the fact they need to establish their own regulatory regimes. The unique challenge here is that Metro Vancouver is comprised of 21 different municipalities, most of whom will be setting their own fee structures and rules.

In Surrey, Mayor Doug McCallum has gone even further, saying he won’t issue any business permits to ride sharing companies, period. Therefore, if you live in Surrey and need a ride home from downtown Vancouver in the wee hours of the morning, your only option will be to hail a cab.

Good luck with that one.

Metro Vancouver is comprised of 21 different municipalities, most of whom will be setting their own fee structures and rules.

Meanwhile, Burnaby has set their fees at an astronomical $510 per vehicle. No doubt, they hope this keeps ride sharing outside their city limits – while also claiming they aren’t against the service.

The fee is set at $100 in neighbouring Vancouver, $132 in Richmond, and $203 in New Westminster. Delta has one of the lowest fees, at only $25.

Kudos to the Tri-Cities who at least understood that cooperating to establish a common fee and regulatory structure would be in the public interest. They plan to implement a multi-city 10 cent fee per ride, which applies to pickups and drop offs in Port Moody, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam.

According to various media reports, North Shore municipalities are still struggling to determine whether to charge a local business license prior to a regional one being implemented – hopefully within a year.

As you can see, this has quickly become a complete regulatory and financial mess.

It’s not like municipal officials didn’t see this coming. They’ve known for at least five years that the province was working on legalizing ride sharing. It begs the question: why didn’t they take that time to set up a joint task force at Metro Vancouver Regional District, streamline the fee and business permit structure?

In other words, why weren’t they ready?

This has quickly become a complete regulatory and financial mess.

On the bright side, this fee fiasco sheds some light on what businesses operating across multiple jurisdictions in our region have to deal with. Just ask one of them what it’s like to wade through all the paperwork and pay the multiple fees just to operate their businesses each year in Metro Vancouver. It’s one of the reasons the business community has been advocating for a single permit and fee structure to help support our regional economic development.

While some limited progress has been made over the last decade, a lot more work has yet to be done.

If companies like Uber and Lyft manage to get Metro Vancouver municipalities to agree on a common fee structure and business permit process – the true legacy of ride sharing here will go well beyond simply getting a cheap and easy ride home.

Daniel Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer for a non-profit seniors care organization based in Burnaby. A former weekly civic affairs columnist for 24 Hours Newspaper, Fontaine has been a political commentator on Global TV and CKNW radio. In 2008 he co-founded one of Canada’s most popular civic affairs blogs. In 2012, Fontaine was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for public service.