News / Halifax

Tristan Cleveland: Halifax should make Uber-smart move and use service for rural, accessible transit

Bringing in Uber would give communities more freedom and better service for less cost to taxpayers

n this Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, a self-driving Uber sits ready to take journalists for a ride during a media preview in Pittsburgh.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

n this Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, a self-driving Uber sits ready to take journalists for a ride during a media preview in Pittsburgh.

In one week, the bus to Sambro will be cut. It’s true we need to consolidate bus routes, but Sabro residents were paying just over $300,000 yearly in a local tax to have that service. Is there really nothing we can offer if they are willing to pay?

And throughout rural Halifax, communities need a way to give people who don’t drive or own a car options to get around. We need a cost-effective solution.

Good news, this problem has been solved. We can just use Uber.

I’m not kidding.

The town of Innisfil, Ontario, offers rural transit with “uberPOOL,” a service which resembles something between a taxi and a bus. Passengers type in where they want to go in the app, and it automatically calculates a route that can pick up multiple people going in the same direction, providing door-to-door service.

Instead of paying for the complex logistics of setting up their own rural system, Innisfil just subsidizes uberPOOL trips, so the ticket costs $5 per passenger.

Sound expensive for taxpayers? It’s not. For most trips, the city has to chip in between $5 and $20. That’s in the ballpark of the cost to Halifax of the average MetroX trip, $8.25. And it’s way less than the amount Sambro residents are currently spend subsidizing each Sambro bus ticket, a whopping $64.

For potentially less than a third of the cost, Sambro residents could get taxi-quality service. If they continued to pay an area-transit tax, it wouldn’t cost other taxpayers anything.

Uber could equally be a solution for replacing the Access-a-Bus. In Toronto and cities across the USA, they provide a service, called uberWAV, for people in wheelchairs, the blind, and others who need accessible service. Right now, our Access-a-Bus is not only unbelievably costly, but terrible.

“With Access-a-Bus, you have to book seven days in advance,” accessibility advocate Gerry Post tells me. “And you’re lucky if you get to book when you want. Do you know what you’re going to be doing in seven days time?” That crappy service comes at a per-trip subsidy from Halifax of $36.95.

The real-time routing technology that makes uberPOOL and uberWAV possible is not something we can replicate. So let’s work with a company that will readily offer us 21st Century transportation. Why not use a cost-effective system that would immediately cover our rural transportation and accessibility needs with a far superior service—at much lower cost?

Of course, bus drivers and people in the taxi industry would be angry. On the other hand, who cares? Bus drivers don’t work in rural areas anyways, and if taxi companies have to offer a better experience to compete, all the better.

Uber can’t currently operate in Halifax because only licensed taxi drivers are allowed to pick up passengers. While that rule is intended for safety, recent events have made clear that the ability to rate a driver with each-and-every ride would provide better safety than a license. Right now, even when a driver sexually assaults a passenger, it can take time before they stop giving trips. With Uber, a bad rating could warn passengers immediately.

And frankly, it’s embarrassing when visitors arrive at our airport and see we don’t have the transportation app they use in every other modern city. Let’s use Uber for rural and accessible transit, so Halifax feels like the future, not the past.

Editor's note: This column originally stated $200,000 was taken from the local taxpayer's area rate to cover the Sambro transit route. In fact, the correct figure is $303,917. Also, the article referenced Inisville, Ont. when the correct spelling is Innisfil. Metro regrets these errors.

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