WHISTLER — B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board has decided to allow taxi companies to apply to expand their fleets by 15 per cent in an effort to provide better service to the public.
Board chairwoman Catharine Read outlined the board’s decision on increasing the number of taxis and two other changes to regulations on Tuesday to elected officials at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler.
“People at the board really do believe it’s time for an update to the regulatory framework,” Read said.
In July, the province released a report on the modernization of the taxi industry, which was intended to help prepare for the entry into B.C. of ride-hailing companies.
As a result of the report, the Passenger Transportation Board — an independent tribunal that approves taxi licence applications — reviewed three taxi modernization recommendations: allowing existing licensees a one-time opportunity to increase the number of vehicles on their licences, giving the industry flexibility to charge lower rates in off-peak hours for rides booked through an app, and increasing efficiencies at shift changes through separate day and night vehicles.
The board spent six weeks doing consultations and online surveys with stakeholders, including taxi licence holders and drivers, ride-hailing companies and advocacy organizations, and last Friday made a decision on how to proceed.
The board will allow current licence holders the opportunity to increase the size of their fleet by 15 per cent, which means up to 500 taxis provincewide, about 300 of which will be in the Lower Mainland. Small licensees, such as those in rural areas, will be allowed to apply for an extra plate.
This will also be an opportunity to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis on the road. In Vancouver 19 per cent of taxis are wheelchair accessible, but that number is lower in other areas.
Read said applying for more taxis is optional, and companies that take advantage of the opportunity will be encouraged to put cars on the road as soon as possible.
“There was near-universal support for this recommendation from licence holders — even the taxi drivers, seniors organization, disability organizations, and even from the ride-hailing companies,” said Read.
The board plans to introduce a streamlined application and approval process for acquiring plates for new cars.
Taxis will also be allowed to lower fares below the meter rate in off-peak hours for rides hailed using an app. The idea is to encourage more people to use taxis when there is less demand. Read said there was widespread support from stakeholders, but concern about how it might affect driver wages and that those who don’t have smartphones won’t be able to take advantage of discounts.
This change will go into effect in September 2019, when ride-hailing is expected to come into effect.
The board will also allow licensees to have separate day and night vehicles on one plate, to allow for faster shift changes and, it is hoped, reduce the number of ride refusals.
Read said the driver survey showed that at least 70 per cent of drivers sometimes or often find trip refusal near shift changes to be an issue.
“I suspect the only groups that will take advantage of that are some of the Vancouver companies, where shift change is an issue, and people with unique circumstances such as a fleet of all-electric cars,” Read said.
The B.C. Taxi Association is not in favour of this initiative because it believes the cost will be prohibitive.
The board’s decisions will be implemented this week.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena said the changes are part of the first phase of modernizing the taxi industry in preparation for ride hailing.
“The Passenger Transportation Board has had a lot of consultation and now is in the position where they can start issuing the new licences, which I think everyone is very eager for,” she said.
Trevena said the province will introduce legislation to allow ride hailing in the fall legislative session. Then, the Insurance Corp. of B.C. will have to change its insurance structure. It’s expected that ride-hailing companies can apply to operate next fall.
Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang said he was glad to hear about the board’s decisions, because the shortage of taxis has been acute in Vancouver and people have been asking for more taxis.
“I think the taxi companies, I think they’re coming around to the idea that they don’t have the monopoly anymore, that there’s a different way of doing business,” Jang said.
“I think giving them some flexibility has been a big help, even with their own apps and more cars on the road.”
Raymond Louie, also a Vancouver councillor, called the changes “a start.”
“Certainly, there’s been a strong demand. I think the report identified the weaknesses of the current system,” Louie said. “My hope is the province moves quickly with the rest of the recommendations as well in order to provide the best service possible.”