|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | Sept. 13, 2018|
I’m intrigued by County Council’s infatuation with Uber, particularly in context of the company’s relationship with Innisfill. As outlined in a story in today’s paper, the township submitted an expression of interest to Uber in 2016 and Innisfill Transit was launched a year ago.
For those of you unfamiliar with Uber, it’s a peer-to-peer ride sharing company that connects riders with drivers via an app. Unlike in larger centres, in Innisfil, the town subsidizes a portion of each fare. In fact, they spent about $150,000 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 wheelchair accessible lifts. It’s grown from 27,000 to 40,000 riders and now there are about 4.500 riders and 1,800 drivers. It’s eligible for gas tax funding.
It was acknowledged at the meeting that a similar system might not work in Haliburton County due to the fact we have fewer people (Innisfil’s population was more than 36,000 in the 2016 Census) and the fact our area is 4,073 square kilometres compared to Innisfill’s 263.
County councillors were all over it at the meeting, though, lauding it as great out-of-the-box thinking; a suggestion of calling Uber directly; another pronouncing it’s exactly what we need.
And, this is where we hit the pause button.
Uber is a $70-billion ride-hail company headquartered in San Francisco with operations in 785 metro areas worldwide. If county planner Charlsey White can get on to an actual person that Innifill dealt with, there may be an opportunity for an initial discussion on whether a service such as Innisfill’s could be adapted to our smaller population and vastly larger geographical area. That would be step one.
Further, is the public equally enamoured with the prospect of Uber coming to Haliburton? The company has its fans and its detractors. You don’t have to go far in an online search to find problems. Since its launch in 2009, there have been countless lawsuits from governments, drivers, passengers and competitors. Are taxpayers willing to subsidize a Uber transit system as Innisfil ratepayers have done?
In addition, there have been questions about the quality of drivers, background checks, and friction with existing cab companies where Uber operates. Perhaps a municipally-led partnership would eliminate some of these concerns. Perhaps not.
At this stage, the county’s planner is no doubt compiling a list of questions that must be answered if this idea is ever to come back to county council chambers. It might work in the villages of Haliburton and Minden, for example, but the rides would be so short they’d struggle to meet a $4 minimum payment, for example. With our dodgy Internet, can we be certain we could always access the app? Would Haliburton School of Art and Design (HSAD) students use it? Presumably so. This is one area I do see potential benefit for the county. Would Uber screen the drivers? Would the county? The list of questions goes on and on.
As County Coun. Carol Moffatt said, “You can’t have a discussion and make a decision unless you know what the facts are.” Clearly, there is a tremendous amount of fact-finding to be done before simply pronouncing Uber as the solution to the county’s public transportation needs.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.