Indeed, the motion council voted down was simply to study how or if private mobility companies, from Uber to dozens of others, including Edmonton's own Pogo and TappCar (which has a unionized workforce), as well as a Canadian startup bridging the Kitchener-to-Toronto transit gap, called RideCo, might be added as potential partners to increase transit ridership. The SumofUs petition’s wording, however, implied something very different was happening. And apparently 12,000 people signed the petition.
After Tuesday’s vote, which strikes even the possibility of studying how companies like RideCo might offer Edmonton Transit first-mile solutions, Progress Alberta’s Duncan Kinney said, in a SumofUs release: “This is a big victory for Edmonton and a big victory for public transit. We’ll have to keep our guards up, because Uber will likely try this in other cities, but the decision made in Edmonton today is a great first step.”
Again, Uber did not try anything here. At all. I contacted Kinney, who I know personally, but he declined to comment.
Still, despite the potentially misleading statements, let’s address the main fear informing them—that Edmonton will slowly privatize public transit over to Uber, who will then be able to charge passengers whatever they like. That is a dark possibility we should not ignore.
But according to TransitCenter, it just is not possible. TransitCenter claims Uber tends to peak at about six riders an hour, while transit exceeds that, even with so-called “empty buses,” and it does so using more than 70 per cent less space in the city than Uber cars. City streets just are not big enough for Uber to take over transit.
TransitCenter also claims Uber ridership tends to peak at night, when transit services are scaled back. What this suggests is the two are complementary services and people use both. And that's exactly what we found at the beginning of this article.
COMPLEMENTARY SERVICES ARE THE MOBILITY NORM
Like an airline, the $220-million cost Edmonton Transit creates (comparatively, we spend about $192-million on operating our road network) stays largely the same whether zero people take the trains or buses, or if they are always full. Which means Edmonton’s main objective should be to convince as many people as they can to get on the damn bus. Which means solving their first- and last-mile problems. Which should mean looking at all the best options out there.
Transportation is the most subsidized space governments exist in. Roads are in many ways publicly subsidized tools that allow private mobility. Or in other ways of looking at things, public dollars enable private companies—car and oil companies in this case—to sell us private mobility solutions. The two are—perhaps you're getting my theme here—complementary.
My friend summed up my thoughts well. “I totally agree that the optics of having even a little public tax money going to private companies seems unacceptable, but the reality is that so many transit users are already spending tons of their own money on these private companies to compensate for gaps in public transit,” she wrote. “And it really sucks that Uber is the poster child and seemingly the only other option, because they are not.”
If you were to consult the history on DATS, or look into RideCo, or chat with the good people at Pogo and TappCar, you would know she is right.
Coun. Andrew Knack agrees. "While I absolutely have concerns with the management of one particular ride-sharing company, I believe examining all different solutions is worthwhile," he wrote, in a blog.
The transit strategy report is not due back to council until April 2018, meaning it will be the next council that examines it. Knack and many others are hoping to push adding the examination of private partnerships back onto the table.