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Rural Transportation News. Alberta 2018. No. 11 : Considering Alternate Forms of Transit

Anthony Dionigi, MES
Transit Supervisor
City of Fort Saskatchewan
Municipalities and communities across Alberta are seeking ways to provide transit service to their residentsShould they consider alternate forms of transit? Among the choices available, Uber is becoming a serious consideration in some places. 

Is this an appropriate alternative for Alberta communities? Perhaps a visit to Innisfil, Ontario and Uber experiences there will be helpful for decision makers in Alberta. Let's start by looking at cost.

In transit, it is the last mile of the rider's journey that is the most challenging for which to plan. Located about an hour north of Toronto, Innisfil, with a population of 35,000 plus, became the first town in Canada to partner with Uber as an alternative to public transit on May 15, 2017. The town saw conventional transit as being too costly, especially in terms of capital purchases towards a new fleet. So the town set aside $100,000 for 2017 and $125,000 for 2018 to be used toward an Uber transit model that does not require a bus fleet. Instead of subsidizing a bus service that operates even if no one is on board, Innisfil subsidizes their residents on a per-trip basis. This is how costs for the expanded ridesharing partnership looked in March 2018.

Total Uber Fare
Resident Pays
Town Pays
Alcona to IRC
Alcona to Barrie South
Friday Harbour to Cookstown Tanger
Cookstown to Town Hall
Sandy Cove Acres to RVH
Alcona to Hwy 400 carpool
Lefroy to Barrie South

Cookstown to Tanger Outlet

Sandy Cove Acres to Alcona








The Innisfil Uberpool is capable of picking up more than one passenger per request.

The service provides continuity of access for riders
24 hours a day and 7 days a week. 

Drivers like this system too because it provides them with work flexibility.


Innisfil Uber use, number of riders, cost:

-  Over 3,400 users have completed more than 26,700 transit trips to connect with the commuter rail station, get to work, go out with friends, or visit their doctor.

-   Over 1,300 drivers have made money by helping to move members of their community around. 

-   Town estimates savings of more than $8 million per year based on what an equivalent door-to-door bus system across all of Innisfil could cost. (Innisfil City Reporter 2018) 

Important considerations

Innisfil has done a good job of mitigating expected tensions with taxi companies by bringing them to the planning table and offering them partnerships. One taxi company has agreed to take care of the paratransit service. From an environmental perspective, buses should also be able to remove more vehicles from roadways rather than adding more.

Since Uber is not a transportation company a significant portion of Innisfil's contribution is going towards the use of the Uber software/app technology. 

The chart above shows that the cost to use the service is subsidized by the Town at a rate of $5 to $26 depending on the trip. While transit is a fixed cost, Uber is distance-based, meaning the greater the ridership, the more funds required to operate. Although Uberpool does allow more than one person to travel, the capacity of a transit vehicle is far greater than the average Uber vehicle. Finally, the Uber vehicles are not required to be accessible to people with mobility challenges.

Uber Technologies receives a 15 percent to 25 percent portion of the total and these funds do not necessarily remain within the local economy. The drivers are also not paid a fixed income but a wage based on rider use and often drivers earn less than a living wage if you factor in the actual costs of owning a vehicle. Compared to a conventional bus driver, there is much less job security as working is based on usage. The drivers are also required to be a certain age meaning that not everyone qualifies to work for Uber. As well, the driver is responsible for the cost of fuel, maintenance, and higher insurance premiums since insurance companies view vehicles used for Uber as being of greater risk. Drivers do not often factor into the equation the  costs to operate a vehicle which is estimated at $8,500 a year in Canada (CAA figure).

The main benefit of the Uber partnership is offering a subsidized transit service that increases in cost only with greater use. Innisfil's system does not operate like a typical Uber service and more like a fixed-route transit service. Patrons are asked to wait at designated areas, because in order to have affordable service, the routes need to be as direct as possible. This is because transit becomes inefficient in terms of cost and scheduling when accommodations are made to meet individual needs which are estimated at $8,500 a year in Canada (CAA figure). 

Because drivers operate on a variable schedule, it is difficult to know the Town's contingency plan when there are not enough drivers available to operate the service. 

In terms of efficiency and the environment, cars take up more space than a transit vehicle on our roads. Buses also reduce the carbon footprint of transporting people if the buses get used appropriately. Fewer vehicles also equates to less wear and tear of road infrastructure. And while road infrastructure is important, it is a piece of the overall transportation infrastructure that is more heavily subsidized than transit and typically comes with little or no cost recovery. This is an issue of significance to Alberta and Albertans at this time.

In summary

The Innisfil story shows that the Uber partnership can work well in areas of low population density, although it is still too early to know if there is a tendency for towns like Innisfil to underestimate the long-term economic costs. However, the human benefits cannot be overlooked.

A conventional fixed-route transit system may turn out to be the better long-term transportation solution. Time and study will tell. 

In terms of the appropriateness of Uber for rural communities in Alberta, 
questions about the value of alternate transit systems must 
be considered and ultimately answered. 

Will Uber or Uber-like systems bring value to a local economy and community? Additionally, transit on average in the Edmonton Region is about $3 per ride, far less than the Innisifil-Uber rates.


Anthony Dionigi holds a Master of Environmental Sciences with a major in Transportationfrom York University and membership in the Professional Planning Institute. His approach to rural transportation illustrates the value of professional education and training in transportationplanning, implementation and operations. 

Anthony provides thought leadership for the growing Rural Transportation Network in Alberta, including for the creation of New Collar education opportunities in our province. You can learn more about Anthony Dionigi and his transit leadership by clicking on the following link:

Transit Use Continues to Climb in Fort Saskatchewan
More good news from Fort Saskatchewan, May 1, 2018: 
New Park and Ride officially opens for riders, May 1, 2018, at Fort Saskatchewan


Stay posted next time to learn from Jennifer Wallis what 
lack of transportation can mean for Albertans in 
isolated communities such as Anzac.

Rural Transportation News. Alberta 2018 is produced by ALL of Alberta (Association for Life-wide Living of Alberta). Contributors and people in RuralTransportation Team Alberta are committed to changes that contribute to the quality of life for everyone in rural Alberta. We value your feedback and ideas. 

You can contact column writers through
or by calling 780/672-9315.

Appreciation is extended to contributors, organizations and other stakeholders for their help in moving the Alberta Rural Transportation efforts along, and to the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association for helping to circulate this column. 

Cathie Bartlett is Editor for Rural Transporation News. Alberta 2018. She is a former journalist, and now an active member of the 
Battle River Writing Centre.