The idea, outlined in a staff presentation to Vancouver council on Tuesday, would be to tack an extra charge on to ride-hailing trips, in addition to other taxes and on top of what companies charge their passengers. The charge is intended to target high-traffic areas and peak travel times as a way of fighting congestion, particularly downtown.
Metro Vancouver has long been North America’s largest urban area without services in which passengers use smartphones to book car trips through companies like Uber and Lyft. But the B.C. NDP has told British Columbians they should be able to use ride-hailing services by this fall.
First, though, the regulations to govern ride-hailing need to be hammered out. Vancouver city staff will make submissions in late January to the provincial committee studying the proposed ride-hailing legislation. This week, senior staff is asking council to guide their input to the province. Council is expected to discuss the issue and vote on Wednesday.
The staff report before council this week is based on a principles in city submissions to the province a year ago, covering topics that included passenger safety, traffic mobility in the region and the financial viability of the existing taxi industry. This week’s report includes revisions and additions to last year’s principles, the most noteworthy of which is allowing local governments to charge “a per-trip mobility fee.”
The report proposes allowing the city or Metro “future opportunities for road user charges to best manage mobility outcomes (and) minimize congestion, ideally by time of day in any problematic areas.”
“Ride-hailing has the potential to reverse the City of Vancouver’s current trend of decreasing vehicle kilometers traveled per capita and increase congestion overall,” the report warns.
“Additionally, the frequent pickup and drop-off activity caused by ride-hailing may lead to increased congestion caused by illegal stopping in travel lanes, bike lanes and transit stops. Among other effects, increased congestion impedes transit service, increases carbon emissions, and slows the movement of goods,” the report says.
A city official said several other North American cities “charge per-trip transportation network company fees,” including New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and Portland. Some overseas cities have implemented forms of “congestion pricing” and many others are debating the idea.
Still others have looked at raising money from ride-hailing to fund various things. A report last March from NBC said Portland raised millions more than anticipated with a flat 50-cent surcharge on ride-hailing, while a New York state task force proposed a ride-hailing surcharge between $2 and $5 to reduce congestion and fund public transit. Chicago’s 15-cent surcharge on ride-hailing trips has help fund transit improvements.
In October, the Calgary Herald reported that city’s council approved a proposal to add up to 30 cents to every taxi and Uber trip to fund improvements to wheelchair-accessible cab service in the city.
Ian Tostenson, spokesman for Ridesharing Now for B.C., applauded Vancouver for preparing to welcome ride-hailing services, but said: “The only issue that I do see (in this week’s report) is this congestion tax.”
Tostenson’s organization is a coalition advocating ride-hailing in B.C. It is sponsored by Uber and Lyft, and includes B.C. organizations including nightlife and tourism industry associations, boards of trade, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.
“We should always keep in mind, the No. 1 topic for everybody is affordability,” Tostenson said.
Affordability was also highlighted as a concern in an emailed statement Monday from Uber’s head of cities for Western Canada, Michael van Hemmen.
“Uber is supportive of the City of Vancouver engaging with the provincial committee on ride-sharing,” he wrote. “However, a key policy principle missing from staff’s report is affordability. We hope that council will continue to encourage policies that enhance reliable and affordable transportation.”
Because ride-hailing services are relatively new, there is still debate around their effects on congestion. But as Bloomberg reported last year, “a growing body of research shows that ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft increase rather than reduce congestion.”
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Green Coun. Pete Fry cited a widely quoted report by New York City’s former deputy commissioner for traffic and planning, Bruce Schaller, who said ride-hailing services added billions of miles of driving in the U.S.’s largest metro areas, and mainly competed with public transportation, walking and biking, drawing people away from “non-auto modes” of travel.
Fry said Monday that he feels the ability for a local government to charge a congestion tax is critical.
“It’s reasonable to consider that if we add X number of additional vehicles onto the road that it will have an impact on congestion and we want to be able to have the tools in place to mitigate that.”