When you think public transportation, you may be envisioning dreary articulating buses jammed packed with passengers huddled over their phones or gazing out the window listening to music after a long day at work.
Innisfil, Ontario, decided on another form of transit. The municipality just south of Barrie on the western shore of Lake Simcoe partnered with Uber last year to offer discounted rides to its residents.
Mayor Pierre Leroux of Russell Township wants to bring a similar program to Prescott-Russell. Leroux is the United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s (UCPR) Chair of its Economic Development Committee.
“Realistically, a transit system in the sense of OC transpo is unrealistic, it’s too much of a rural area,” says Leroux.
He praised Innisfil’s partnership saying it created both transportation and jobs.
Would a similar program work for Prescott-Russell? It might, but here are a few things it needs to address.
After Innisfil estimated it would cost nearly $1 million to build a small two-bus transit system, it decided to look elsewhere for service. Paul Pentikainen, senior planner for the town, was reported as saying local taxi companies weren’t interested in the program. Uber was already operating in the area and as part of the Greater Toronto Area, the ubiquity of the service was undeniable.
Such is not the case for Prescott-Russell. While a quick Uber ride search shows the odd car in the south western part of the Counties like Embrun and Limoges, there are no cars operating in the region from Rockland all the way east to Hawkesbury.
Innisfil has more than one third of Prescott-Russell’s total population crammed into about one-eighth of its size. More riders who need shorter rides means drivers can pick up more people in a shift and make more money.
To be fair, the comparison isn’t exactly one for one. Innisfil is a lower-tier municipality within Simcoe County. But when comparing upper tier municipalities, Simcoe County still has more than double the population density of Prescott-Russell.
Despite this, Leroux can still see a role for the UCPR. He gives the example of Russell Township striking a partnership with the ride service and residents may need to cross municipal border.
“Maybe there’s a role for the UCPR to pay a share of all municipal border crossings,” said Leroux.
Under Innisfil’s system, users pay a fixed rate to certain locations within the municipality. For example, it’s three dollars to go to town hall or the recreation complex. The town picks up the remaining tab. If residents need to cross municipal borders, they still get five dollars off their ride (within about a 30-kilometre radius).
To Leroux, the idea of a fixed, supplemented fare is still worth it.
“It’s not 100 per cent taxation and we don’t get stuck with all the infrastructure and salaries,” he said. The important part is getting people to jobs, he added.
Prescott-Russell has been built to fit a car-centric mentality. It’s the most efficient way to get from place to place in the vast rural area.
Residents in Limoges, Clarence Creek and L’Orignal still all need to travel to neighbouring communities to buy groceries. That’s not to say those without cars currently wouldn’t be interested in the ride service, but given the challenges outlined above, many car-owning residents would need to give up their personal transportation to make such a partnership even remotely attractive to Uber and worth the UCPR’s time and investment. And if the UCPR becomes involved, it can’t be a program that only benefits the western part of the counties, which is already seeing a lot of growth.
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