British Columbia Temporary Operating Permits

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Image Credit: Foden Alpha - Flickr

Sometime between 1928 and 1935, the Motor Vehicle Act was amended to allow the Commissioner (we assume of the Provincial Police) to issue a Permit "for the temporary operation ... of a motor-vehicle or trailer upon any highway for the purpose only of its transportation from one place in the Province to another, without being registered or licenced pursuant to the Act."
Of interest, the Commission was further authorised to require "the display upon the motor-vehicle or trailer ... special number-plates" that were to be returned to the Commissioner at the expiration of the permit (failure to do so would result in the forfeiting of a deposit).
While we are unsure what form these "special number-plates" took, there are a couple of intriguing photos from the 1930s and 1940s showing possible examples:

There are no known examples of surviving, undated plates with an "X" prefix or of any records that speak to their purpose.
It is assumed, therefore, that these plates might be examples of the "special number-plates" issued by the Province in the 1930s and 1940s to allow for the temporary use of a vehicle (and trailer).
The absence of a date on these "X" plates would seem to speak to their temporary use for a period potentially unrelated to the calendar year.
Two of the three known pictures of "X" plates relate to parades also speaks to their potential short-term use.
Finally, that the "special number-plates" had to be returned to the Commissioner of Provincial Police may account for their being no known survivors/examples (yet!).

Vancouver Archives: J.M. Brown Motors, Georgia - logging truck (CVA 586-8745)

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When the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) was being created by the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration of Dave Barret between 1973-74, one of the changes that was introduced to facilitate the implementation of this new government automobile insurance system was the requirement that license plates now stay with a driver and not the vehicle.
As described by the (then) Transportation Minister, Robert Strachan in may of 1973, "under the government plan, licence plate numbers issued to individual drivers will stay with the driver when the person sells or trades his car, truck or other licensed vehicle. If he buys another vehicle, the plates will be put on that vehicle after the purchase is completed."
More importantly, the government insurance would be obtained by drivers at the time that license plates were being purchased from the newly created Autoplan Agents.
My comparison, under the system in place prior to the creation of ICBC, when a car was sold, the license plates went with it and, we assume, were not connected in any way with whatever private coverage a motorists might have had.
The transition to this new system formally took affect on November 24, 1973, 3 months ahead of the introduction of ICBC on March 1, 1974.

To explain the pending changes, the MVB released a brochure featuring a quirky talking license plate character (unfortunately, un-named) in 1973.

Apparently, "Yours 'Till the Mountain Peaks!" (and sees the salad dressing) is a popular reference from the mid- 20th Century to something of permanence - such as keeping your license plates forever!

Within 6 months of the government insurance system coming into force, a short-coming of requiring license plates to follow the driver instead of the vehicle had been identified; the re-sale of used vehicles.

For someone who had bought a new vehicle and transferred their license plates to it, attempting to sell their old vehicle became challenging as, without plates on it, no one could legally take it for a test drive.

Similarly, attempting to buy a used car if you did not already have plates you could affix to it was equally challenging as, without plates, there was no way to legally drive the vehicle.

The solution that ICBC settled upon to deal with these situations was the creation of a "temporary testing permit" that could be used to facilitate the sale of used cars which no longer had license plates.
At the time of the release in 1974, the permits were good for a period of 10 days, could be purchased at all Motor Vehicle Branch offices for $7 and were to be affixed to windshields.
Ron Garay Collection  
Issuing Statistics


Unfortunately, this is a plate type that has received short-shrift from collectors over the years and we here at have been equally guilty of not following changes in the design and use of these plates and, as a result, the 1970s through the mid-1990s are a bit of a black hole in terms of Temporary Operating Permit knowledge.

1980s to 1997
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Issuing Statistics


Pierre Delacote Collection    
It is thought that permits (such as those shown above) might have started at No. 1 (possibly in 1974) and worked their way to No. 12-999-999 before being replaced by the 0A0-A0A format in 1998.

Nevertheless, the basics of these permits can be gleaned from the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations, which state that a permit cannot be issued for a period in excessive of 15 days while the fees for a passenger vehicle is "the greater of $4/day or $12" - meaning the minimum for a one day permit is going to be $12 (so you might as well get it for 3 days).
1997 - 2020
Pierre Delacote Collection
Issuing Statistics
2016: 8A0A0A
2020: 9A0A0A
Scott Burrows Photo

By using a serial that comprises 3 letters and 3 digits with most of the same letter exclusions as is found on the passenger series (i.e. use of the letter "U" is confirmed) it is assumed that approximately 8,000,000 combinations are available under this current 0A0-A0A format.

Foden Alpha - Flickr

The more common occurrence is a car with expired plates displaying a paper Temporary Operating Permit in the back window with the smaller section of the permit displayed on the front windshield. In the photo shown above-left, the car has no license plates but the permit is visible at far left in the back window. At top-right is an example of both parts of a temporary permit: the top part goes in the back window while the bottom part (with only the serial showing) goes in the front windshield.

A creative way to display a Temporary Operating Permit and certain to ensure there is no confusion when driving around with expired license plates. Or, as the driver below has done, cover the plate with tape to avoid any confusion.

With the introduction of the new series in 1997 (or thereabouts), the bloc of permits starting at "0A0A0A" through to, we assume, "0Y9Y9Y"(?) were reserved for issuance to vehicles registered outside of BC and which were being brought into the province with expired registration or, for other reasons, required a temportary permit. It is believed that every Autoplan Agent has a pre-printed supply of these permits which contain space for the make of the vehicle and the period of validity to be completed by hand.
1997 - present
Pierre Delacote Collection
Issuing Statistics

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The Future
Temporary license plates are not without their problems, and these are not unique to BC. Foremost amongst these is the nature of their production and the ease with which paper plates that only employ a black-and-white colour scheme can be easily replicated on home printers.
To combat this, a number of US states have moved to more durable materials and production processes. In Missouri (2019) a new reflective, holographic image capable of being seen at day and night was included on temporary plates as well as an anti-copying feature that produces the word “VOID” if photocopied.
While ICBC has not announced any plans to update Temporary plates in BC, it also cannot be put-off forever.

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