Saskatoon·Opinion

Saskatchewan has a drunk driving problem that ride-hailing won't solve

When it comes to drunk driving, it’s sometimes hard to tell where the drinking problem ends and the transportation problem begins.

Sask. introduces legislation for ride-booking services

The Saskatchewan government has introduced legislation that paves the way for ride-sharing to operate in the province. (CBC)

Saskatchewan has a drinking problem. Saskatchewan also has a transportation problem. In the case of drunk driving, it's sometimes hard to tell where the drinking problem ends and the transportation problem begins.

Do we need more safe rides home? Or should we be imbibing less in the first place? Surely our cavalier attitudes toward alcohol consumption can't help, and December is a tough month for anyone wrestling with the disease of alcoholism.

Enter Transportation Network Companies — also known as Uber, Lyft and their ilk. The province has introduced legislation to allow them to operate in Saskatchewan, and hopefully — ideally — they'll reduce the incidence of drunk driving.

It's hard not to like the idea of ride-hailing being available in Saskatchewan, or at least in the cities. Taxis seem expensive after taking an Uber in other cities — and you don't even have to carry cash, just your phone.

You can also order one for someone else, and people feel more comfortable using it for unorthodox trips.

The Vehicles for Hire Act sets out requirements for drivers who are looking to make some cash through the app-based services, such as Uber. (CBC)

Since both driver and passenger can see each other's ratings, this imparts a sense of security that the passenger can pay and the driver will deliver them safely to the proper destination.

It's one of the ways the "gig economy" makes small luxuries, like a car service, affordable for the masses.

How ride-hailing will play out in Saskatchewan is anyone's guess. We are a small number of people spread over many miles and, while we are still reasonably openhearted, there are schisms between populations that make people feel uneasy sharing transportation with strangers.

Some small towns have casual taxi service and ride-hailing already, made more necessary by the axing of the provincial bus service. In other cities where they already operate, Uber and Lyft gain market share at the cost of walking, transit and bike trips, not existing car users.

Saskatoon's transit system has been declining since the lockout in 2014. There were approximately one million fewer trips in 2016 than 2013.

How many people are left taking the bus that can afford to skip over to a Lyft when they feel like it? On the other hand, Uber can improve transit access in poorly served neighbourhoods — combining a lift with a cross-town bus might be more cost-effective than just calling a car for the entire trip.

Would ride-sharing improve impaired driving rates?

Returning back to the drunk driving issue: Will people drive to the bar and then leave their vehicles there overnight? Or will they spring for ride-hailing both ways?

Will we end up replicating the issue of too few cabs on Friday and Saturday nights, or will surge pricing incentivize more Uber drivers to hop in and take fares?

When the city brought in regulations to allow food trucks to operate, many licences were taken up. However, the steep cost of buy-in was not mitigated by profits, and some trucks re-evaluated their fiscal situation after a year and ceased operations.

Transit system must improve

An artist's rendering of a proposed station for Saskatoon's Bus Rapid Transit system. (City of Saskatoon )

The one thing I also want to caution the city against is relying too much upon ride-hailing and not improving their transit system.

Unless people carpool extensively while using Uber, the number of cars on the road will not significantly decrease. It doesn't matter if it's your car or your driver's car — it's still a car trip.

In some cases, since the driver must travel to you, pick you up, drop you off and then travel to another fare, we are increasing vehicle miles travelled per trip.

Increased traffic is never a good thing for buses struggling to be on time already, and if towns take to ride-hailing eagerly, and congestion subsequently ensues, it will be a challenge for transit agencies to keep up.

Ride-hailing, unless it is in a major centre, also has few options for people with disabilities, and the demand for Access Transit's services are only going to increase. Mobility is a human right, and we must commit to ensuring better transit for everyone, not just the currently abled.

The proposed Bus Rapid Transit route in Saskatoon. (City of Saskatoon)

Funnily enough, one thing ride-hailing is good at is reducing the amount of parking required. If you follow transportation news with any regularity in Regina and Saskatoon, you'll know parking — or the perceived lack of it — is a perennial hot button.

I'm not sure how ride-hailing will fit into the multiple moving parts that make up how we get around this province, and whether they can remain viable enough to prove to be a reliable, alternate option.

Every mode of transportation has its upsides and downsides, but for now it seems that the public opinion pendulum is swinging toward convenience — and it remains to be seen what that means for people who make a living getting others around.

About the Author

Hilary Nelson moved to Saskatoon in 2002 for her fine arts degree and forgot to leave. She started reading municipal affairs blogs and then going to council meetings and before she knew it, people were asking her about how the city worked. Hilary previously wrote for Metro in 2013 and on her own website before CBC and is a prolific commentator on Twitter (@theotherhilary). She has only endorsed one candidate for mayor: her cat niece, Nano.

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