City of Vancouver and province on collision course over Uber and other ride-sharing services

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      A Vancouver city councillor has predicted that the B.C. government will take away municipalities' legal authority over the activation of taxi licences.

      In an interview this morning on the CBC Radio Early Edition show, Geoff Meggs said there will likely be a "regional solution" over vehicles for hire in the wake of the province's plan to allow ride-sharing.

      A government news release yesterday stated that the province "will invest up to $1 million to help the taxi industry develop an app with the capability of shared dispatch to allow the taxi sector provincewide to better compete with new entrants to the market, and allow the public to hail and pay for a taxi with a smartphone in the same way that they would for a ride-sharing service".

      Meggs told CBC Radio host Stephen Quinn that it was an "insulting" offer to taxi companies, which already have apps, and characterized this $1-million expenditure as "Band-Aid money".

      The government news release noted that ride-sharing companies "typically operate across municipal boundaries". 

      "To ensure a level playing field for the taxi industry, the province will work with municipalities and other stakeholders to allow all drivers, including taxis, the same access to provide services wherever and whenever a passenger needs a ride," the government promised.

      Under the current system, the Passenger Transportation Board awards taxi licences but they can only be activated with the approval of municipal governments.

      Municipalities can revoke a licence for a number of reasons. In Vancouver, for example, a licence can be pulled if a driver fails to pass a training program that teaches skills on how to transport passengers with disabilities. A licence can also be revoked on the recommendation of the local police force.

      Last October, Vancouver city council extended a moratorium on new taxi licences for a year.

      It also refused to allow Uber to operate. The San Francisco-based company has always maintained that it provides a ride-sharing app and is not a taxi company, so it shouldn't be regulated under the same rules as the cab industry.

      Yesterday, Transportation Minister Todd Stone promised to allow people to use the services of companies like Uber and Lyft by the holiday season of 2017.

      He said the changes are designed to address the public's desire for more choice, as well as for more convenience, accessibility, and competition.

      Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Peter Fassbender said that the rules would be changed in a way that ensures the taxi industry remains competitive.

      "We want a fair system that will welcome new companies into the marketplace but also will ensure through provincial regulation, the industry will continue to be regulated in a way that is fair and equitable for all of the people who participate in it," Fassbender said.

      According to the province, taxis will retain exclusive right to pick up people who flag rides on the side of the road  and from those who phone dispatchers.