Saint John ride-share bylaw gets support, but obstacles remain

·3 min read
Saint John's ride-hailing bylaw would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate within city limits. (Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock - image credit)
Saint John's ride-hailing bylaw would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate within city limits. (Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock - image credit)

It looks like ride-hailing businesses will soon be legal in Saint John, but people hoping to catch an Uber to work may have a while to wait.

A bylaw that would allow ride-sharing passed first and second readings at Saint John city council's Monday meeting.

The city's commissioner of public works and transportation cautioned that there were still some obstacles to be overcome.

Mike Hugenholtz said the City of Fredericton's bylaw is now two years old, enacted just weeks before the pandemic lockdown, and there hasn't been a rush by the ride-hailing industry to set up there.

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"Certainly we recognize that [the pandemic] may have had an impact," Hugenholz said. "However, as of now, no companies are currently operating there in Fredericton. There seem to be some challenges with some of the insurance coverage that's required in the provincial Motor Vehicle Act."

The issue was repeated by Coun. Gerry Lowe, who had operated a taxi company in Saint John for decades.

Lowe said when people in the Fredericton area interested in being a driver looked into what it would cost to insure their vehicles, they found the cost was too high.

Lowe said in other jurisdictions the companies provide the driver's insurance.

"They get the insurance and they can relay it to the driver of the car when he's carrying a ride-share passenger," Lowe said.

"When that passenger gets out, you go back to your home insurance. The province of New Brunswick does not allow that. There's no insurance in this province that will do that."

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Graham Thompson/CBC

Lowe said until that is worked out, he doesn't think Saint John will see ride-hailing companies coming to the city.

But despite his years in the taxi business, he thinks the bylaw is fair to the taxi industry and that ride-sharing could be good for Saint John, which he said once boasted 10 cab companies and as many as 500 drivers.

"Right now, today, there's four companies left," Lowe said. "And there's probably 100, 110 active drivers. … If you happen to go out in the city on a Friday or Saturday night and have a drink, and you don't want to drive, good luck getting a cab."

Hugenholtz said the other issue Saint John faces is the need to get the outlying suburban communities to pass similar bylaws.

"One of the requirements in the Motor Vehicle Act is that the municipalities actually need to have a local bylaw adopted for companies to set up rides-sharing within their boundaries," he said.

"We would be unable to offer ride-sharing between those jurisdictions or within the boundaries of our outlying municipalities unless they as well did adopt a similar bylaw."

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Lowe said that when the city surveyed people about whether they would use ride-sharing, a number of respondents said they would use it for travel to and from Rothesay, Quispamsis and Grand Bay-Westfield.

Hugenholtz said the city has been in touch with the outlying communities to encourage them to consider a similar bylaw.

Coun. Greg Norton, who has been pushing for a ride-hailing bylaw for years, said he believes this is a good first step.

"The municipality at some point has to be progressive in its bylaws to send an open message, 'This is something you can do responsibly. And we're here. We want to have a conversation. We have a bylaw that will allow you to do it.'"

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