The answer, it seems, is good bad. It’s become quite popular which is good, but because it’s become so popular the town is rolling out changes to make it more shitty and less convenient for the people who need it the most, which is bad.
In 2017, the growing Toronto exurb of Innisfil, Ontario, became one of the first towns in the world to subsidize Uber rides in lieu of a traditional bus. Riders could pay a flat fare of just $3-$5 to travel to community hubs in the backseat of a car, or get $5 off regular fares to other destinations in and around town.
People loved it. By the end of the Uber program’s first full year of service, they were taking 8,000 trips a month. Riders like 20-year-old Holley Hudson, who works for daycare programs at YMCAs around the area, relied on it heavily, since she doesn’t drive. To get to the college course practicums she was taking when the service launched, “I used Ubers on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday basis,” she said.
Now “Innisfil Transit” is changing its structure. As of April 1, flat fares for the city-brokered Ubers rose by $1. Trip discounts dropped to $4, and a 30-ride monthly cap was implemented. Town leaders say this will allow Innisfil to continue to cover costs.
But Hudson and others see the changes as harmful, and a strange way of declaring success.
The trip cap in particular bothers Hudson, who continues to rely on the Uber service as her primary mode of transportation. She expects that she’ll burn through her allotted 30 trips in a couple of weeks. The city has an application for residents to qualify for an extra 20 trips per month, but Hudson doesn’t plan to file. She’s opposed to the idea on principle.
“I would never get on a bus in Toronto and hear the driver say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve hit your cap,’” Hudson said. “Uber was supposed to be our bus.”
Why you would institute a completely arbitrary and stingy trip cap instead of going the bus pass route where people pay for X number of rides up front with an option to buy more is beyond me, but I’m not going to pretend to understand the inner workings of the deal between Uber and the town.
What I do understand, though, is that 30 rides per month is a number low enough to almost render the entire service useless. If you work five days a week, that’s two trips per day, or ten trips per week. At that rate, if we assume a month is four weeks long, you’re running out of rides an entire week short. And that’s just doing one thing. Heaven help you if you need to buy food or wish to have any sort of a life.
Had they just changed the fee structure people might have complained, but it could have been justified somewhat by saying listen, this grew much more quickly than any of us expected so we have to make some adjustments or risk going massively over budget and running the whole damn place into the poorhouse.
Obviously the townsfolk love it and people with the planning department are still saying that it’s working out to be a better value than a proper bus system would have been, so there has to be some kind of answer to this problem. Whether that’s taking my suggestion and selling fare cards at a rate that helps you better absorb costs or getting tougher with Uber come negotiation time, I hope they can figure it out.