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Council supports pilot to explore ride-sharing in the County

Council has shown support for a pilot program with the URide ride-sharing service to complement to already approved County Transit program of dinner hour shuttle service connecting Picton, Bloomfield and Wellington and a Sandbanks shuttle – all using tourism relief related grant monies.

Discussion was held at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting. Final decisions follow at council’s June 7 regular meeting.

As the County’s vast geography and small population makes setting up a ride sharing service tricky, URide will receive a subsidy of up to $50,000 for up to one year, starting with the pilot from June to December to mitigate shortfalls while testing in a location that does not fit its usual model.

Typically, URide operates in mid-sized cities that provide drivers with shorter distance rides that are profitable for the drivers who pay for their own gas. They earn 70 per cent of the fare.

On a monthly basis, or as needed, URide would provide the municipality with an invoice for the amount where fares did not meet the threshold of the contractor’s wage, along with data reporting the number of rides, pick up and drop-off locations and fares charged for each ride. The agreement also outlines requirements related to licensing, training, insurance, driver safety and vehicle safety for drivers employed by URide.

These numbers, noted Emily Cowan, would be useful to see who uses the services, when, and where they go, should the pilot be a success and continued in future, possibly using funding from the Destination Marketing Organization.

Compensation rates will be negotiated privately between URide and drivers, but at minimum must provide a living wage, defined by the Ontario Living Wage Network as $17.95 for Prince Edward County. They expect the program may be busy enough in the summer not to use much of the $50,000 subsidy, but may see it used more in the quieter, fall and winter months.

The three taxi services licensed to operate in the County were also consulted.

Are all “struggling with recruiting and retaining qualified drivers,” said Karen Palmer, Economic Development Officer, in her report to council. “Introducing a ride sharing service increases the risk that driver recruitment and retention will become even more difficult.”

She notes local taxi drivers feel hampered by the high price of fuel, fees associated with verifying driver and vehicle safety, administrative fees levied by the municipality and high insurance costs – particularly for drivers with less than three years of commercial driving experience.

“Operators say their ability to stay afloat relies on seasonal visitors – driving a taxi is a ‘feast or famine’ experience, with a high rate of calls and increased demand for driving tours in the summer months, and a dearth of calls in the winter months. Taxi drivers earn 40 per cent of the fares charged during their shifts. While busy in the summer, drivers sometimes earn only $25-$30 for a 10-hour shift in the winter months, due to a lack of fares.”

Also, the effects of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are still being felt.

“One taxi operator noted that, while he has seven vehicles and is paying insurance and licensing fees on his entire fleet, only two or three vehicles are on the road due to a lack of drivers. ‘Taxis are an easy thing to get, it’s the people to run them that’s the problem,’ one operator said.”

The taxi rates, she notes, are not in keeping with other communities that have meter fares. The cost for a 10km ride in the County is about $14, where URide is $21.50 and Gravenhurst (Muskoka) charges $39.

Now that the grant funding has allowed the municipality to make investments in fixed and flexible bus routes, Palmer says taxis should move to a more traditional place in the hierarchy of transit options: given that they allow passengers to travel door-to-door, on demand and in private vehicles, taxis should be one of the more expensive transit options.

Council supported allowing taxi drivers to hike fares by 10 per cent and will ask staff to explore how to recognize rising operational costs.

Staff will return to council in 2023, following a comprehensive review of the pilot program and community consultations, with any recommended amendments to bylaws.

Filed Under: Local News

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