Nova Scotia is introducing a “modern” drivers licence in a bid to lure multi-billion dollar ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to the province.
The province’s transportation department announced on Thursday a plan to create a “Class 4” licence that will no longer require holders to retake the province’s road and knowledge tests.
“The changes should help open the sector to healthy competition, reduce unnecessary regulatory burden and ensure our roads continue to be safe by keeping the medical requirement, which strikes a balance between business growth passenger safety,” said Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines in a press release.
“This is especially important in our rapidly growing metro areas and in underserviced areas across rural Nova Scotia.”
Read more: Halifax to permit ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft to operate in the municipality
A Class 4 licence is more specialized than the basic Class 5 licence held by most drivers in the province.
Currently, a Class 4 is required by any individual wanting to operate a cab.
The province’s announcement on Thursday promises to save Class 4 licence holders a $68 testing fee.
“Exempting drivers from the additional testing will also simplify the licensing process of upgrading from a Class 5 to Class 4 restricted,” the province said in a press release.
All other requirements for a Class 4 licence, including a medical assessment, will remain, the province said.
A standard Class 4 licence, including a knowledge and road test, will continue to be required to drive an ambulance or small buses with 24 or fewer passengers
The changes take effect immediately.
The move is portrayed as “reducing costs and administrative burdens taxi and ride-hailing services” by the province but it also changes a barrier standing between ride-hailing apps entering the Halifax Regional Municipality, the largest potential market in the province.
Uber has previously said that requiring its drivers to have a Class 4 licence would create a barrier to the company operating in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).
It’s not clear that the changes announced by the province on Thursday will be enough to change the companies’ minds but it does seem to indicate a response to the decision made by Halifax Regional Council this week.
Earlier this week, the governing body of the HRM passed a series of bylaw amendments that would permit ride-sharing services to operate in the municipality, although those services must adhere to certain restrictions.
Another requirement is a licensing fee that each company — which the municipality refers to as Transportation Network Companies or TNCs — will be required to pay.
READ MORE: Halifax one step closer to getting ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft
How much they have to pay depends on how many vehicles a company has in its service. The costs range from as low as $2,000 for those that have up to 10 vehicles to as high as $25,000 for more than 100 vehicles.
The province didn’t immediately respond to a request on whether the changes announced on Thursday will allow the HRM to charge a per-trip fee, an ability that the council has repeatedly requested from the province.
The municipality would need the province to grant it the ability to implement that fee through changes in the Motor Vehicle Act.
As part of the decision on Tuesday, Mayor Mike Savage was directed to write a letter to the provincial government requesting amendments to Nova Scotia’s Motor Vehicle Act. A letter requesting the changes was originally sent by the mayor in February but the province didn’t follow through on the request.
The report prepared by municipal staff highlighted the risk of not being able to charge a per-trip fee.
“The cost of administering the program is unknown at this time and the proposed annual license fee may not offset the costs,” the report reads.
The quick action by the province isn’t necessarily surprising.
Uber has two lobbyists registered with the province and the Nova Scotia government was set to make a ride-hailing related announcement in February before it was abruptly cancelled with no reason given.
Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the changes announced Thursday would make them enter the market.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Uber said, “the ball is squarely in the province’s court. We look forward to (Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines) sharing details and timelines for the reforms required to make ridesharing a reality,”
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