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New Westminster joins in on regional ride-hailing licence

New Westminster is teaming up with more than 20 municipalities on a regional ride-hailing licence.
ride hailing, iStock
The future of ride hailing services is still up in the air in B.C.

New Westminster is teaming up with more than 20 municipalities on a regional ride-hailing licence.

At its June 22 meeting, council supported the city’s participation in an inter-municipal business licence for transportation network services, which would allow ride-hailing companies to operate in all participating municipalities with a single business licence. New Westminster is among the last of the municipalities in the Lower Mainland-Whistler region to approve the inter-municipal business licence.

According to a staff report, the province has authorized 11 ride-hailing companies to operate in the Lower Mainland-Whistler region.

Coun. Patrick Johnstone said he has some concerns about ride-hailing, particularly as it relates to increases in greenhouse gases and undermining sustainable modes of transportation, but supports the inter-municipal business licence because it gives local governments some regulatory control over ride-hailing companies.

“It is important that we collect the data. It’s important that we interpret the data, and this business licensing model that is going on in the region is our way to get to that data,” he said. “This is not the end of the story but it’s sort of the beginning of a journey for local governments on ride-hailing. I think it is important for us to work with our neighbouring communities and to stay aware of the impacts, both positive and negative, of ride-hailing. We need to keep on working within the limits of our licensing authority to address some of those impacts.”

While there are some issues in the taxi industry, Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said it provides jobs for many immigrants and new Canadians. He voted against the regional licence for ride-hailing.

“I don’t see it as a share economy, I see it as a take economy,” he said. “It takes away from well-established taxi companies that we have had all over North America and most parts of the world.”

With the introduction of ride-hailing, Puchmayr said people in the taxi industry are being stripped of their equity – and they don’t have to play on the same playing field.

“The greatest unfairness in all of this is that there seems to be two sets of rules,” he said. “One for ride-hailing companies and how they treat their employees, contractors – and then there is rules, labour standards rules, for long-established taxi companies that operate in our province.”

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who also voted against the bylaw, said good-paying, full-time jobs in an industry dominated by people of colour are being lost to “fly-by-night” ride-hailing operations where drivers often aren’t recognized by employers as being actual workers.

“California has done the research. They are not good for the environment,” he added. “They claim to be, but they put a lot more cars on the road and they take people off of public transit.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote shares concerns that “there are a number of challenges with ride-hailing” such as labour issues and impacts on sustainable transportation, but he supported the licence as a way of providing municipalities with some rights.

“Ultimately, this is a provincial government decision,” he said. “The current government made the decision to set up the framework. The provincial government was also pretty clear with municipalities that if we wanted to have any opportunity to be involved in the regulations we needed to find regional coordination.”

New West resident Elliot Rossiter spoke to council via Zoom at Monday’s council meeting.

“I am not speaking either for or against this motion here, but thinking about qualifications around the way in which ride-hailing agencies and businesses are able to be licensed,” he said. “My concerns are around making sure the sharing economy is structured in such a way that it involves justice for workers and ensuring fair wages.”

Rossiter said he’d like to see workers and drivers for ride-sharing companies classified as employees, not as independent contractors, to ensure they’re receiving minimum wage (at least) and benefits. He’d also like to see information tracked and publicized about the wages paid (net of vehicle expenses) to help assess whether ride-sharing/ride-hailing agencies are contributing to a sustainable economy.