British Columbia Motor Carrier License Plates

A special thanks to Bill Hobbis, Tom Lindner, Dallas Doyle, Graham Casey, Don Schneider and Ron Garay for providing many of the plates pictured.

Quick Links:
Motor Carrier  |  Prefix Gallery

The origins of the Motor Carrier license plate in British Columbia - as in most other jurisdictions across North America - can be traced to the competitive decline of the railroads vis-a-vis the trucking industry during the first decades of the 20th century.
The railroad industry had been regulated since the mid-1800s with maximum-rate controls shielding merchants and farmers from the potentially monopolistic pricing of the railway companies, and minimum-rate controls serving to protect the railway companies from each other. These regulations, however, left the railroads vulnerable to competition from other modes of transport.
In the United States, an expanding inter-state highway system and the nationalisation of the railway system during the First Word War allowed truckers to fill the void created in private freight haulage. At the conclusion of the war, trucking was an accepted form of transportation and Pennsylvania became the first state to adopt trucking regulations in 1914, with an additional thirty-five states following by 1925.
Generally, the controls that were applied to the trucking industry were patterned after the regulations used in the railway and public utility fields and concerned restrictions on entry and limited the maximum and minimum rates that truckers could charge.
With the onset of the Depression in the late 1920s, the trucking industry came to support government regulation as many larger trucking firms felt their businesses were being threatened by "fly-by-night" operators who offered cut-rate prices that ultimately forced down wages and disrupted the whole rate structure in an area.
As a result of these pressures, some provinces had begun to regulate trucking in the 1920s, and by the mid-1930s most provinces had some form of economic regulation, typically in the form of entry restrictions.
In British Columbia, the Highway Act, being Chapter 103 of the "Revised Statutes of British Columbia, 1924," was amended in 1925 when the following subsection was added:

Prescribing that in case of any motor-vehicle operated or about to be operated by or on behalf of a person carrying on upon the highway the business of a public carrier of passengers, or of passengers and goods, over a stated route or between fixed termini or at stated intervals, the owner or person in charge of the motor-vehicle, before the commencement or continuation of its operation, as the case may be, shall file with the Minister a schedule with reference to such operation showing the times and points of departure and arrival, and shall obtain his certificate of approval of the schedule; and prescribing that it shall be unlawful to operate any such motor-vehicle at a speed greater than the average speed indicated by the times of departure and arrival in the schedule approved; all regulations under this clause being subject, however, to the proviso that where it is found necessary in cases of emergency or owing to unusual traffic conditions to operate additional motor-vehicles over the route covered by an approved schedule, the person by or on whose behalf the said business is carried on shall notify the Minister within forty-eight hours after any additional motor-vehicle has been so operated, giving particulars of such operation and the reason therefor, but all additional motor-vehicles so operated shall be subject to the same regulations as to speed as are applicable under this clause to motor-vehicles regularly operated over said route.

As a a subsequent Annual Report of the Public Utilities Commission stated, prior to 1930, the only control of motor carriers was with respect to this need to obtain a "certificate of approval" (as stated above) and, later, a "Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity" as well as to file insurance with the province.
1926 - 1929
1926
1929
Issuing Statistics
1926:
unknown
1927:
unknown
1928:
unknown
1929:
unknown
Readers asked to be aware that the placement of the Public Works Department ("P.W.D.") plates shown above as early issue motor carrier plates is purely speculative. There is no known evidence linking these particular plates to the possible registration of public and freight carriers between the years 1926 and 1929, however, there are some similarities that link them to later issues such as the "Special Permit" designation - but even this is tenuous. Until more information comes to light, we shall consider these to be carrier plates.

*     *     *     *     *
In 1930, British Columbia took its first step towards economic regulation by amending the Highway Act, so that both public passenger and public freight-vehicle licences could be issued for vehicles operating on either a regular route or between fixed termini.
It is thought that as a result of the change to Highway Act, the province - through the Public Works Department - began to issue license plates to motor carriers and that the plates shown below are examples of what would have been displayed on freight-vehicles.
1930 - 1934
1931
Issuing Statistics
1930:
unknown
1931:
unknown
1932:
unknown
1933:
unknown
1934:
unknown
   

In this photo, a truck used for the hauling of freight is clearly displaying a 1934 "P.C. Licence Freight" licence plates immediately behind the passenger side door.

IMAGE SOURCE: Vancouver Public Library

Not unlike the 1927 & 1928 issues shown above, readers are again asked to be aware that the placement of the Public Works Department ("P.W.D.") and "P.C. Licence" plates shown above as early issue motor carrier plates is somewhat speculative. It is thought, however, that the references to "Stage Permit" and "Freight" clearly links these to the regulation of vehicles moving people and goods - which is consistent with the requirements of the Act.

*     *     *     *     *
By the mid-1930s, the province had begun to receive numerous complaints from licensed carriers regarding encroachment on their businesses by "fly-by-night" operators.
In response, Part V of the Highway Act was expanded during the 1935 session of the Legislature to include all classes of passenger and freight transportation for compensation and also private freight carriers and effectively marked the beginning of true economic regulation of the trucking industry in the province.
The practical effect of this change was the introduction of eleven (11) letter prefixes - "A" through "L" - that would be used to denote the different classification of carriers under the Act.
For instance, one of the more common prefixes is "K" , which allowed for "a Private Freight-vehicle owned by and operated by or on behalf of a bona-fide farmer and used exclusively for the transportation of his own agricultural, orchard or dairy products produced on his farm, or his own live stock, or supplies and commodities for his farm."
A vehicle displaying a "K" plate could not exceed a gross weight of 1.9 tons and could not be used to charge a fee of someone else for the transportation or freight in or on their vehicle.
Administration of Part 'V' was undertaken by the provincial Public Works Department between 1935 and 1939.
1935 - 1939
Issuing Statistics
1935:
unknown
1936:
unknown
1937:
unknown
1938:
unknown
1939:
unknown


CLICK ON EACH PLATE TO
VIEW A PREFIX GALLERY

     

1938 - Mystery 'X' Prefix
Who knows that this is? We are still sifting through our papers trying to find some hints ...

*     *     *     *     *
At the 1939 Session, the Legislature enacted the Motor Carrier Act, which was to become effective on March 1st, 1940 - which was the commencement of the license year - and would result in the repeal of Part V of the Highway Act that same day.
The Motor Carrier Act related solely to the regulation of the motor carrier industry with the administration of the Act together with the decision-making powers contained therein being assigned to the Pubic Utilities Commission as constituted under the Public Utilities Act.
At this time, the Public Utilities Commission established a Branch for the administration of the Motor Carrier Act, known as the Motor Carrier Branch, with an official - designated the Superintendent of Motor Carriers - as the Commission's chief executive officer in charge of the Branch.
The headquarters of the Motor Carrier Branch were established in Vancouver and certain subofficials at other locations in the Province. The Public Utilities Commission was not attached to any particular part of Government.
Importantly, the Act provided the Branch the ability to regulate motor carriers on all roads throughout the province except as exempted by regulation (Part V of the Highway Act did not cover municipal roads except such roads as were classified as "arterial" or "primary" highway). Under the Motor Carrier Act, exemptions were generally restricted to those portions of the province in which roads were not connected to the main highway system.
The design and issuance of license plates following the creation of the Motor Carrier Branch would be consistent with that seen during the period of administration by the Public Works Department between 1935-39.
1940 - 1950

Issuing Statistics
1940:
unknown
1941:
unknown
1942:
unknown
1943:
unknown
1944:
unknown
1945:
unknown
1946:
unknown
1947:
unknown
1948:
unknown
1949:
unknown
1950:
unknown

 

CLICK ON EACH PLATE TO
VIEW A PREFIX GALLERY

What's inside the envelope?

1950 - Redesigned Prefixes
Ron Garay Collection
Ron Garay Collection
A subtle change in the design of the prefix can be seen in late 1950 "L" prefix plates. Whereas the prefix had previously been enclosed within a rectangle, a larger stand-alone letter would now be used (similar to the way the Motor Vehicle Branch stamped lettered plates). It is assumed that this change was made in order to improve legibility, and would be continued for the next nineteen years.

*     *     *     *     *
At the spring Session of the Legislature in 1958 private freight-vehicles were exempted from licensing requirements under the Motor Carrier Act effective June 1, 1958. As a result, the total number of vehicles licensed by the Branch would decline by almost 75% (i.e. from 33,527 in 1958 to only 8,436 for the license-year ended February 28, 1959) and the "K" & "L" prefixes would no longer appear on carrier license plates.
1951 - 1968
Issuing Statistics
1951:
unknown
1952:
unknown
1953:
unknown
1954:
unknown
1955:
unknown
1956:
unknown
1957:
unknown
1958:
unknown
1959:
unknown
1960:
unknown
1961:
unknown
1962:
unknown
1963:
unknown
1964:
unknown
1965:
unknown
1966:
unknown
1967:
unknown
1968:
unknown
CLICK ON EACH PLATE TO VIEW A PREFIX GALLERY

The image at left shows how the Motor Carrier plate would generally have been attached to a vehicle, and that the vehicle displaying such a plate would generally be registered as commercial. To read more about these underlying Commercial plates, Click Here.

1962 - Colour Variation
An interesting, but probably not very consequential colour variation can be discerned in some of the 1962 plates. The example at left is displaying the standard colours used on the passenger plates in 1961, while the example at right is displaying a slightly redder colour on the letters and numbers.

*     *     *     *     *
During the licence-year 1968-69, an order amending Section 5.05 of the 5.32 of the Motor Carrier Act deleted the requirement for a letter to precede the numerals on the Carrier licence plate.  As a result, the 1969 plates would not display a letter prefix.
1969
Issuing Statistics
1969:
unknown

*     *     *     *     *
A rather busy plate with almost too much information on it was introduced in 1970. For whatever reason, the Public Utilities Commission was using the plates as a way to boost its profile and, as a result, the dies used for the serial are unduly small.
1970 - 1973
Issuing Statistics
1970:
unknown
1971:
unknown
1972:
unknown
1973:
unknown

*     *     *     *     *
In April of 1973, the newly elected NDP Government passed the Energy Act, certain provision of which provided for the constitution of an Energy Commission and abolition - on a date to be fixed by proclamation - of the Public Utilities Commission.
At the same time, certain provisions of the Energy Act amended the Motor Carrier Act to provide for the establishment of a Motor Carrier Commission of not more than three (3) persons to perform the functions previously carried out by the Public Utilities Commission in relation to the Motor Carrier Act. These amendment also placed the Motor Carrier Act and its administrative machinery under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Transportation.
The actual physical transition in the administration of the Motor Carrier Act took place in July 1974, with an earlier amendment to Regulation 5.32 concerning the information to be shown on motor carrier license plates being made to cover the transition of the administration of the Motor Carrier Act from the Public Utilities Commission to the Motor Carrier Commission.
This amendment to Regulation 5.32 is considered to have resulted in the rather slap-happy change to the 1974 plates that saw the bottom quarter of the plate literally cut-off where, it is assumed, the words "Public Utilities Commission" had already been stamped.
1974 - Abolition of Public Utilities Commission
   
Issuing Statistics
1974:
unknown

1974 - High Number Variation
By the end of the 1974 series when the original allotment had been issued, regular sized plates on the 1975 base began to appear as over-run.

*     *     *     *     *
1975 - 1981
Issuing Statistics
1975:
unknown
1976:
unknown
1977:
unknown
1978:
unknown
1979:
unknown
1980:
unknown
1981:
unknown

*     *     *     *     *
1982 - 1984
Issuing Statistics
1982:
unknown
1983:
unknown
1984:
unknown

*     *     *     *     *
1985 - 1987
Issuing Statistics
1985:
unknown
1986:
unknown
1987:
unknown

Expo 86 - Temporary Licenses
Neale Hankins Collection
Due to the anticipated influx of tourists to Vancouver throughout the summer of 1986, accomodation was made for the provision of temporary Motor Carrier licenses in order to ensure that there were enough taxis plying the streets of the City to move all the tourists to where they wanted to be.

Obscured Jurisdiction
Ron Garay Collection
Probably in order to take advantage of economies of scale resulting from the province's introduction of the "Flag" design in 1985, the Motor Carrier Commission began utilising the same base type as that used on motorcycle and trailer plates.  The basic design of the plate, however, would remain substantially unchanged from that which had been used in the period from 1982 to 1984.
This design would prove problematic when the decision was made to finally start revalidating Motor Carrier plates with decals in the late-1980s.  Although the plates would undergo a redesign for 1988, as can be seen on the plate above, the 1987 base would be renewed with placement of the decal effectively obscured issuing jurisdiction (i.e. "British Columbia").

*     *     *     *     *
In the early 1980s, Transport Canada conducted a lottery to determine which taxi companies would be authorized to operate at Vancouver International Airport.
Winners of the lottery were then issued supplementary licence plates that allowed them to pick-up customers at the Airport.
In 1992, the Vancouver Airport Authority assumed control of the Airport from Transport Canada, which resulted in the issuance of a redesigned plate to taxi cabs
The following year, in response to numerous customer complaints regarding taxi drivers lack of local knowledge, refusal to take short trips, use of excessive speed, lack of English language skills, poor customer service skills, and over-charging, the Authority required drivers working at the Airport to take TaxiHost training and mandated that the vehicle be of a certain age.
More recently, the Airport Authority has encouraged the use of alternative-fuel taxis, and requires drivers undertake training in helping people with special needs. Supplementary licence plates are no longer issued to taxi cabs operating at the Airport
 
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) License Plates
 
   

*     *     *     *     *
1988 - 1994: Red Numbers
1988
Tom Lindner Collection
Issuing Statistics
1988:
unknown
1989:
unknown
1990:
unknown
1991:
unknown
1992:
unknown
1993:
unknown
1994:
unknown

1995 - 2005: Blue Numbers
Issuing Statistics
1995:
unknown
1996:
unknown
1997:
unknown
1998:
unknown
1999:
unknown
2000:
unknown
2001:
unknown
2002:
unknown
2003:
unknown
2004:
unknown
2005:
unknown
2002
2003
2004
2005

1994 - 2001: Taxi
Issuing Statistics
1994:
unknown
1995:
unknown
1996:
unknown
1997:
unknown
1998:
unknown
1999:
unknown
2000:
unknown
2001:
unknown
1998

Motor Carrier Decals - 1988 - 2005
1988
1989
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
Don Schneider Collection
2002
2003
2004
2005

*     *     *     *     *

On June 24, 2004, the Passenger Transportation Act came into effect, replacing the Motor Carrier Act (MCA).  Licensees authorised to provide passenger transportation services under the MCA were given until February 28, 2005 to "convert" their licences to the Passenger Transportation Act regime.

During the transition period between June 28, 2004 and February 28, 2005, Motor Carrier licensees could continue to display a Motor Carrier Licence plate and decal.  However, once registered under the new Act, an operator would be provided with:
     1)  a Passenger Transportation Licence - the reference number for which would start with the number "7";
     2)  a Registration Decal - being a unique numbered decal to be affixed to "identifier holder" (i.e. license plate); and
     3)  an "Identifier Holder" (i.e. a Passenger Carrier licence plate).
The Passenger Carrier license plates are issued and look similar in size to the former Motor Carrier plates, the design, however, incorporates the BC provincial flag as a background and start with the number "8".
An early prototype of the plate incorporated a much simpler and easier to decipher design of an all yellow background with black lettering and numbering.
2005: Passenger Carrier
2005
2009
Issuing Statistics
2005:
800-000 to unknown
2012
2013
Of note, unlike most license plate issued in the province, the Passenger Carrier plates are done through the Passenger Transportation Board (an independent tribunal established under the Act) and not the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).  Passenger Carrier license plates are commonly found on taxis, limos and commercial bus services, such as in the image below:

Quick Links:
Motor Carrier  |  Prefix Gallery

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