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The Risk of Trusting Mobility Services to the Ubers of the World

The potential risks of privatizing mobility are scrutinized in a Canadian city that subsidizes Uber rides.
January 22, 2018, 10am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Lester Balajadia

"Since last May, more than 25,000 trips have been taken with Uber in a town near Toronto, Ontario called Innisfil," reports Tracey Lindeman. "That number, provided to Motherboard by the town, is particularly significant because Innisfil only had around 36,000 residents in 2016."

The town of Innisfil is one of a few in North America that subsidizes ride-hailing trips—in this case to substitute for public transit. Other cities in British Columbia, where ride-hailing companies are illegal, are hoping to follow Innisfil's lead in subsidizing Uber and Lyft rides.

As Lindeman notes, however, "[h]aving a private technology company step in to provide essential services normally offered—and paid for—by governments is a potentially worrisome trend." The main concern Lindeman expresses is a concern that riders would be trapped in a number of scenarios, like the company suddenly goes out of business or raises prices dramatically. 

Paul Pentikainen, Innisfil’s senior policy planner, is on the record in the article claiming that the service is cheaper for the city than paying for bus service, but Uber won't say whether the program is profitable for the company. That's not the only reason to approach the long-term sustainability of this program with skepticism. Lindeman rightly points out many of the possible ways programs like Innisfil's could go wrong for residents.

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Published on Monday, January 22, 2018 in Motherboard
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