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When Rideshare Serves as Transit, Success Brings Risks

Innisfil, Ontario, decided to use Uber instead of starting bus service. The program took off but so have the costs, and now cutbacks need to be made.
May 6, 2019, 12pm PDT | Camille Fink
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Laura Bliss reports on the plan in Innisfil, Ontario, a town north of Toronto, to use Uber in place of public transit. Innisfil’s population had grown in recent years, and local officials considered implementing fixed-route bus service, but the costs would have been high.

Subsidized Uber rides looked like a better option and, starting in 2017, the town started offering $3 to $5 flat fares to particular destinations and $5 fares to the rest of the area. The program has been a success, with 86,000 rides logged in 2018. But the model means costs have gone up because Uber vehicles do not have the capacity of buses.

"Only so many passengers can fit in the backseat of an Uber, and the ride-hailing company, not the town, is pocketing most of the revenue. With per-capita costs essentially fixed, the town is forced to hike rates and cap trips as adoption grows," writes Bliss. Some Innisfil residents who have come to depend on the service feel that the changes are unfair, especially because no bus alternative is available.

Cities have had various motivations for incorporating ridesharing into their public transit systems. And the outcomes have varied, with some places seeing low ridership and others, like Innisfil, struggling with rising costs. "As cities around the world turn to Uber, Lyft, and other apps as a quick fix for mobility service gaps, what’s now happening in Innisfil may be a good example of the risks," notes Bliss.

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Published on Monday, April 29, 2019 in CityLab
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