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County support gives Uride, and taxi companies, a lift

UPDATE JAN 10: Council reversed its previous decision and has approved support for the Uride ride hailing service for another season in the County.

Support includes an up to $30,000 wage subsidy to be paid from the Municipal Accommodations Tax (MAT), and continuation of Uride exemptions from the taxi bylaw.

Councillors Brad Nieman and Phil St.-Jean sought a bolstered grant program for the two existing taxi companies, (rather than proposed micro-granting for any transportation initiatives) also to be funded by the MAT taxes.

Parameters for that are expected to come to council as part of the tourism management plan report scheduled for the end of February.

No financial support for Uride in the County: company will explore solutions

UPDATE NOV. 29: In a media response attributed to Cody Ruberto, Uride CEO and Founder, the company expresses deep disappointment with council’s decision but adds that despite the setback, “Uride is actively exploring alternative solutions to continue offering its services.”

“As Uride strives to develop a sustainable business model in the County, the company emphasizes that without the subsidy from Prince Edward County, and the challenging geographical landscape of the area, providing fair earnings to its drivers becomes difficult. This aspect is fundamental to Uride’s operations and commitment to the community.”

The response goes on to state that in 2023, “Uride continued to deliver exceptional service, evident from the fact that 98.25 per cent of their rides were rated five stars. This level of customer satisfaction reflects Uride’s dedication to quality service.

“Uride has also become a significant contributor to the private hire vehicle availability in the County, especially during weekend nights, where they had more vehicles on the road than any other private hire provider. Our presence has filled a vital gap in transportation services, offering safety and convenience to the residents and visitors.

“Uride understands the council’s perspective and the necessity of supporting long-standing local businesses. However, Uride believes that a range of transportation options, including innovative services like theirs, is crucial for catering to the diverse needs of the community.

“Uride urges the council to reconsider its decision, taking into account the significant implications for community safety and mobility.”

NOV. 28: County council chose not to agree to another wage subsidy for 2024 for the Uride on demand ride sharing service.

The 8-4 vote felled plans for the $30,000 wage subsidy to be paid from the municipal portion of the accommodations tax, and continuation of Uride exemptions from the taxi bylaw.

Programs supervisor Julianne Snepsts had made the recommendations in her report to council that also sought a request for staff to modernize the taxi bylaw and fare schedule to improve conditions for operating a vehicle for hire business here. She also sought to develop a micro-granting program with maximum funding of $30,000 funded through the County’s portion of the Municipal Accommodations Tax (MAT) revenue to give incentive for private sector solutions to community transporation challenges.

Uride tends to operate in smaller cities, including Belleville, and partnered with the County in 2022 with the subsidy helping to close the gap between fares earned and living wage paid. The subsidy was renewed in 2023 using MAT revenue.

The full $50,000 subsidy was used in 2022 and a projected un-used balance of $15,000 is expected for this year. It was expected $30,000 would be sufficient for 2024 but could have meant reduced seven days a week service to four or five months, instead of six.

The lack of subsidy, Snepsts ventured, would likely further reduce service available from Uride in the County.

Snepsts reminded that one of the challenges of the Uride subsidy was meant to address the lack of capacity within the taxi sector to meet community needs.

“Another action the municipality can take to address this challenge would be to review the regulations that govern local taxis and vehicles with an eye to changes that would enable the growth and sustainability of the sector.”

Councillor Phil St.-Jean said he appreciated the benefits of Uride but didn’t like preferences given to a new company over the existing taxi companies – of which he noted, there are now only two, instead of three.

“It bothers me that we subsidize somebody new to the detriment of the industry that exists here,” he said. “Had we invested in those existing, I suspect that third taxi company would still be here.”

He suggested reducing Uride’s subsidy to $15,000 with the balance going to increase the micro-granting program to $45,000, but that motion also failed.

Councillor Janice Maynard reminded that people in the rural areas not close to Picton were actually able to get a ride from the company as taxis are not always an option at prime times. She also spoke to the need to help reduce impaired driving as the OPP report increased occurrences – 80 so far this year; over the 63 in the timeframe last year.

There are currently eight vehicles operated by taxi companies licensed under the municipal bylaw and a maximum of five Uride drivers on shift at any time – representing 38 per cent of the vehicle capacity.

Taxis here operate seven days a week year-round. Uride operated the same from May to October but just three or four days a week from November to April.

Uride states it offered 5,300 rides since July 2022.

Key findings from date Nov. 2022 to Oct. 2023 included:
– 31 per cent of rides were booked from 5-10 p.m. and 34 per cent were booked 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
– In the months Uride operated seven days a week, 80 per cent of rides were booked Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
– In the 12 months period, 33 per cent of the rides started for ended at a hospitality business (bar, restaurant, event).

The majority of rides did not involve a known overnight accommodation (one-third did) and residents used the service as well.

Staff noted small-scale trends in using the serive for connection to VIA Rail in Belleville; to and from automotive shops and grocery stores and a handfull of cases where Uride appeared to have been used to get people to and from work.

Citing reasons to continue MAT supporting ride-sharing, the report stated some 41 per cent of participants in a recent business expansion and retention survey indicated hiring challenges were affected by applicants needing public transit.

It also noted the OPP continues to report an upward trend in impaired driving charges – with 69 this year to day compared to 54 in 2022 – though the majority do not involve visitors or licensed establishments.

The recommendations also acknowledge the need for the traditional taxi sector and aims to support these businesses.

Filed Under: Local News

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  1. SM says:

    Without the subsidy, Uride would either curtail or terminate service. Apparently during peak periods, the taxi company(s) cannot handle the demand. It is not a simple matter of hiring more taxi drivers. First one must consider the cost of owning and operating the vehicle and the cost of insurance is very high. This subsidy comes from the Municipal Accommodation Tax and not from general revenues. In effect it is paid for by tourists.

  2. JennyD says:

    ..um, perhaps I don’t fully understand the metrics behind this, however I don’t understand why we are paying a company to make money. I’m all for supporting more transportation in PEC, but is it a situation where it’s not sustainable for URIDE? Normally, we don’t pay people to go to work.

  3. Roland Gillespie says:

    Don’t taxi drivers work for tips, also? Shouldn’t the County be subsidizing the wages of all service workers who don’t currently make a living wage? Probably not.

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