British Columbia Municipal License Plates

Quick Links:

The first provincial law concerning municipalities (i.e. An Act Respecting Municipalities) was passed in 1872, the year after British Columbia entered Confederation, and laid out basic criteria regarding the creation of city municipalities, the election of councils, and municipal taxation.
A more extensive set of provincial laws - the Municipal Clauses Act - specifying areas of municipal responsibility would not be passed until 1896.  Even then, it would not be until amendments to the Municipal Clauses Act in 1906 that municipalities would be granted the power to issue licences, and levy and collect fees for commercial vehicles.
It is thought that the Vancouver Incorporation Act, had earlier empowered that municipality to regulate and license owners and drivers of stage coaches, livery, feed and sale stables and or horses, drays, express wagons, carts, cabs, carriages, omnibuses, etc ...
The plate shown at left would have been issued to operators of drays or express wagons within the City of Vancouver. The date at right make the year of issue easy to determine.  For those unfamiliar with what might constitute a "dray", it would have been a low heavy horse cart without sides that was used for haulage.  It is assumed that a different classification of license would have possibly applied to motor vehicles.

For other municipalities, the amended Act would allow them to collect such fees "from any person owning a pack train of six or more animals, freight wagon, stage coach, or omnibus used in transporting goods for profit or hire ..."
In the context of automobiles, this would lead many municipalities to require a separate license plate for each community in which a vehicle was engaged in inter-municipal business.
One of the first such plates came from the City of Victoria and, while it remains unclear as to whether their authority derived from their own Incorporation Act or the Municipal Clauses Act, their early issue porcelain license plates remain one of the more unique and rare of BC plate types.
Shown at left is an example of the porcelain licence plates issued by the City of Victoria in 1913 (and possibly again in 1914).
The No. 6 is probably one of the most (in)famous BC license plates ever issued as a result of decision by Guinness World Records to incorrectly (and regretably) declare it to be the "World's Oldest Licence Plate" for a brief period between September of 2010 and January of 2011. To read more about this incident, Click Here!

*     *     *     *     *
Allowing a municipality to license a vehicle was intended to provide a source of revenue to participating municipalities to offset expenses related to the use of local government roads and highways as a result of commercial vehicle traffic. Expenses would include the cost of maintenance of municipal roadways, road signage, snow removal, parking control, etc ...
Interestingly, licensing was generally done on a semi-annual basis. Click on any one of the following plates to see a larger gallery of local government issued license plates:

AGASSIZ

ALBERNI

BURNABY

CHILLIWACK

COQUITLAM

DELTA

LANGLEY

MAPLE RIDGE

MATSQUI

MISSION


NANIAIMO


NEW WESTMINSTER

NORTH VANCOUVER

PORT ALBERNI

PORT COQUITLAM

PORT MOODY

POWELL RIVER

PRINCE GEORGE


RICHMOND


SAANICH

SUMAS

SURREY

TAHSIS

TRAIL

VANCOUVER

VICTORIA

*     *     *     *     *
Throughout 1961-62, a Standing Committee of the BC Legislature on Municipal Matters held hearings in relation to the licensing of commercial vehicles in the province by local government.
The licensing of commercial vehicles had, by this time, become an important source of income for local governments, however, an earlier report by a Provincial Royal Commission of Inquiry into Road-User Charges in 1960 had already determined these charges to be excessive. Specifically:
The question whether a municipality should continue to have their present discretion in levies on commercial vehicles, and which they will no doubt exercise if the Province does not place a reasonable ceiling thereon, is a matter of policy.  Our inquiry suggests that the level of these individual municipal levies is already excessive for any privilege which they confer.  The pyramiding effect of these levies by many municipalities on commercial vehicles engaged in inter-municipal or long haul operations is as effective as a barrier to inter-provincial commercial road transport as municipal embargos or tariff-walls ... which are illegal.  Efficient and competitive intra-provincial commercial road transport is seriously endangered by the "jungle" of multiple municipal commercial vehicle levies.
Municipalities objected to this characterisation and pointed out that the Motor Carrier Act exempted vehicles engaged in the legitimate transport of freight between municipalities.
By way of example, Surrey was shown to have registered 169 vehicles of local business operations in 1961, and a further 499 vehicles originating from outside its boundaries; while Langley licensed 92 local vehicles and another 424 outside vehicles. The point being that outside businesses were disproportionately using local infrastructure and should be required to pay.
In considering changes to the current system, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) put forward suggestions from its members, including the provincial collection of fees as this "would eliminate the need for a Municipality operating in this controversial field of licensing" (Victoria); that "one licence good for all areas, as per the P.U.C. Plate" be created (West Vancouver); and that "a metropolitan area collection agency be established under the auspices of the U.B.C.M. or some other municipal agency to issue licences" (Burnaby).
*  Additional information related to the "Exempt" license plates is presented below  *
Many of the UBCM's suggestions would be incorporated by the Province the following year when it created the single Municipal plate valid throughout British Columbia (as well as the related "Exempt" plate).  
Apart from some minor design differences, one of the more interesting aspects of these plates is that they employed the colour scheme seen on the 1961 passenger plates.  

1963 - 1978
Issuing Statistics
1963:
unknown
1964:
unknown
1965:
unknown
1966:
unknown
1967:
unknown
1968:
unknown
1969:
unknown
1970:
unknown
1971:
unknown
1972:
unknown
1973:
unknown
1974:
unknown
1975:
unknown
1976:
unknown
1977:
unknown
1978:
unknown


1979 - 1982

Issuing Statistics
1979:
unknown
1980:
unknown
1981:
unknown
1982:
unknown

*     *     *     *     *
For 1983, a renewable base through the use of registration decals was introduced, and would be used through 1986.
1983 - 1986

Issuing Statistics
1983:
unknown
1984:
unknown
1985:
unknown
1986:
unknown

*     *     *     *     *
In 1987, the license plates were replaced with a single, province-wide decal.  In that same year, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) assumed administration of the Commercial Vehicle Licence Program from the provincial government.
Participating municipalities receive from UBCM license decals for the license year.  The decals are then issued by municipalities to owners of commercial vehicles defined as such and licensed under the Commercial Transport Act and used on a highway within a municipality.
The single decal is recognised province-wide and replaced the requirement for individual plates from each community, for those vehicles engaged in inter-municipal business.   When issuing a decal, the municipality retains an administration fee and any transfer fees.  The balance of the fee is remitted to UBCM and deposited into a Commercial Vehicle Licence trust account with proceeds distributed to the participating members on a per capita basis at the end of the licensing year (estimated at $890,000 for the 2008 licensing year).
A minor design change can be seen in the decals following the introduction of the Local Government Act in 2000 which defined a "licence plate" issued under Division 3 as also including a "licence decal" - hence the changed reference on the decals from "plate" to "decal".
1987 - 2013: Commercial Vehicle Licensing ("Municipal") Decals
1989
1990
Issuing Statistics
1987:
unknown
1988:
unknown
1989:
unknown
1990:
unknown
1991:
unknown
1992:
unknown
1993:
unknown
1994:
unknown
1995:
unknown
1996:
unknown
1997:
unknown
1998:
unknown
1999:
unknown
2000:
unknown
2001:
unknown
2002:
unknown
2003:
unknown
2004:
unknown
2005:
unknown
2006:
unknown
2007:
unknown
2008:
unknown
2009:
unknown
2010:
unknown
2011:
unknown
1991
2011
2012
2013
 
John Roberts Collection
John Roberts Collection These particular municipal decals (shown above) were attached to a British double decker bus operated by Royal Blue Line of Victoria. The bus is now one of about a dozen a kept at a boneyard north of the city (shown at left).
Despite the introduction of the "Municipal Decals" in 1987, Section 668 of the Local Government Act still requires that a commercial vehicle must not be operated on a highway in a participating municipality unless the vehicle is displaying a valid licence plate (granted, the definition of a "licence plate" now includes a "licence decal").
Accordingly, there are still a few examples where an individual municipality will issue its own license plate. The City of Vancouver is probably the best example of this, where, under its Vehicle Licensing By-Law No. 4021, the following applies:
The vehicle must display a permanently affixed BC Provincial “Municipal Decal” AND have either:
  a.  
Permanent business identification with business name and address on both sides of the vehicle.   Business identification must be in letters and figures not less than 5 cm. high.
   
OR
  b.  
A City of Vancouver “Commercial Permit Plate”. In this case no vehicle signage is required.
Pierre Delacote Collection
Pierre Delacote Collection
Pierre Delacote Collection
The promoted benefits of displaying the decal or plate in Vancouver generally relate to loading privileges, such as stopping in a commercial load zone without cost, or being able to use a metered space without charge prior to 10:30am.
Interestingly, the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA) opposes the municipal decal requirements and has advocated for its abolition on the basis that "the benefits once provided to commercial vehicles within a municipality (for example, commercial loading zones) have been greatly reduced or else are virtually non-existent."
As can been from the image at left, the City of Victoria also retains the ability to licence certain classes of vehicle. These particular decals were attached to a tourist bus operated by the Royal Blue Line.

Quick Links:


Sources
Statutes of British Columbia
Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM)

HOME : BCpl8s.ca

© Copyright Christopher John Garrish. All rights reserved.