County looks into Uber transportation partnership
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | September 6, 2018
Councillors were impressed with how the town of Innisfil has partnered with Uber to solve its transportation challenges. The town’s flat-rate, ride-sharing service model was so well-received, in fact, that council asked staff to call the company to find out if a similar arrangement could work in Haliburton County.
“As far as we know, Innisfil is the only town or municipality in Ontario, Canada or the world that has partnered with Uber for this type of transit system,” planning director Charlsey White told council on Aug. 29. Similar to other rural municipalities, Innisfil faced a number of barriers to having its own transportation system. A 2015 feasibility study recommended they launch a one-bus system with a start-up cost of $600,000, said White in a presentation.
However, one route wouldn’t service everyone. A door-to-door service was pegged at $8 million annually. They decided to look at another option when they heard the story of a single mom with two kids who walked 10 km on the side of the road to get to her job.
“They were no longer thinking of the problem of how to provide a bus service that gets people to where they want to go,” said White. “The problem became how do they most efficiently connect people, first, to each other, and then to the places they need to go.”
In 2016, their council decided against a bus and instead pursued a demand-based system. With input from their transit advisory committee, they submitted an expression of interest to Uber, a peer-to peer ride sharing company that connects riders with drivers via an app.
“A partnership with Uber was born to create what is now Innisfil Transit,” she said. The service was launched a year ago. A portion of each fare is subsidized by the town ($149,000 last year). Riders pay a base fee of $3-5. Trips taken outside of key destinations receive a $5 discount. The town also partnered with a local taxi company to offer wheel-chair accessible lifts.
In its first year, there were a total of 27,000 trips. That has since increased to 40,000 in the first few months of 2018, said White. There are 4,500 riders and 1,800 drivers. The program is eligible for gas tax funding, she confirmed.
White said Innisfil’s planner told her they weren’t sure about the scalability of such a system in a large area like Haliburton County. The town of Innisfil is 262 square km whereas the county is 4,000 square km.
“A lot of great out-of-the-box thinking here,” said Coun. Brent Devolin, adding there might be some lessons learned from their partnerships with taxi companies.
Coun. Carol Moffatt suggesting calling Uber to find out if it could work.
“You can’t have a discussion and make a decision unless you know what the facts are,” said Moffatt.
She liked the opportunity and said it should be pursued. “I look forward to seeing how this plays out. I think this offers a little more flexibility from what we’ve been talking about.”
Coun. Murray Fearrey believes it’s the solution the county needs.
“This is exactly what I think has to happen,” he said. “Haliburton County is unique and we just can’t have three or four buses running around.”
Fearrey added he likes the fact this would create jobs by employing Uber drivers. The Uber service was available in Innisfil before the transit system came to fruition. It isn’t currently available in Haliburton County. Transportation has been a hot topic in the county for years. In 2016, a task force was formed to determine what transportation models could work. A business case with different models was presented to council. The preferred option was a shared ride model, which would utilize a passenger van to transport residents along flex routes. It’s price tag to operate five days a week was estimated at $192,000.
Council recently hired a consultant to develop a transportation implementation plan for the county. CAO Mike Rutter asked if this work should be put on hold due to recent developments. White said she would contact the consultant and get their opinion.
“This system is very similar to what they’re looking at doing for the county,” she said. In a previous report, she said the consultant will “respond to the public transportation goals and objectives of the business case and provide an outline of service options related to this form of transit system, including delivery approaches, costs and required resources.”
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.