First things first, I need to tackle the elephant in the room…err, blog. 2 months since the last post! That’s insane and for any regular readers (please God, we do have regular readers right?) I humbly apologize. Things heated up over the last little while with Scarborough Transit Action, as our fight against the useless Scarborough Subway kicked into high gear. Also, I jetted off to BC for a friend’s wedding, hoping to experience some beautiful mountain scenery, only to be greeted with the province’s summer of forest fires.
Clearly, I’ve made it out of the hot zone alive and it’s time to get back to posting. Shaun is busy saving the world as usual and has a lot of writing to do as well. Hopefully, we can keep you informed and entertained over these chilly fall days…..or so mad about the state of public transport that you rip up your fancy sweater in rage. Take your pick.
Over the past week, I’ve been writing a piece for a Toronto based online publication about how Uber and other ridesharing (eg, taxis but with underpaid gig workers) companies cannot replace urban public transit, for a variety of reasons relating to geography and how service networks work together. I might be visiting Ottawa in late November/early December and am in the process of trying to nail down which days to take off work. A colleague overheard me asking my manager about this and enthusiastically recommended taking a rideshare there, instead of my usual plan of the train or bus. Since I already have ridesharing on the mind, I did some quick Googling to see how extensive the longer distance ridesharing business is in Ontario, in comparison with it’s better known urban cousin.
At first glance, I noticed a number of informal ridesharing options organized through Kijiji and Craigslist along with a few websites: Kangaride, Ridesharing.com, and Carpoolworld.com, among others. The websites act as aggregators, where individuals traveling between two destinations can offer seats in their car for prospective travelers. According to Blog TO, some people also carry multiple passengers in vans outfitted as minibuses. Thus far, I was unable to come across any more formal rideshare operators (like Uber at. al) currently in Ontario by a simple Google search. In addition to these, there are carpools loosely organized by student unions at Western, Waterloo, Queen’s and other Southern Ontario universities that also function as rideshares: EG. someone can be a passenger in addition to sharing the driving.
As someone interested in public transport in this province, these informal rideshares are interesting to me. The student-oriented ones from Queen’s etc seem easy to explain; students seem willing to put up with the relative discomfort of sharing a car or van with strangers to save money. Similarly, other rideshares advertised on the internet might be attractive to anyone not willing to drive themselves and not able to shell out for more expensive types of public transit.
But wait…..in my casual browsing, I was able to find rideshares for around $30; which, while cheaper than the VIA, if not necessarily as fast, it’s similar in cost to taking the Megabus to Kingston. So what would make someone choose the first option over the bus?
I admit to mixed feelings about the rideshares. Instead of driving alone, people are opting to have a few other passengers, defray the cost of gas and it’s certainly better for the environment to have many passengers in the car. Still, I’d say that ridesharing comes with many of the same negatives that drive out of single car use. More specifically, demand for parking at the end destination, crowding vehicles at popular pickup locations such as universities and just a general continuation of the idea that cars are the way that “normal” people travel.
What accounts for the bus, with often an equally cheap price, losing out in competition with the rideshares? Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you might be able to predict the list coming up. For too long, our bus companies have left riders waiting in poorly maintained terminals, where they are lucky enough to have a terminal. For everyone else, it’s a variety store or the side of the road for them. Also, as the public sector does not provide support (either subsidy to existing bus companies, or the operation of its own competitor) to ensure routes are not canceled or frequencies reduced. Meanwhile, abundant parking and car-centric land use zoning leave many people unable to reach bus terminals or simply used to driving and being driven everywhere, leaving bus travel as some sort of unknown territory.
This whole project of ours has spent a lot of time calling out the public sector, popular attitudes, and the bus companies themselves for the dismal state of our intercity public transit. The fact that so many of these rideshares exist may not be a completely negative thing, given that at least passengers or co-drivers aren’t driving alone. Still, we think that buses and trains (but not only trains!) are the best way to move large numbers of people and shrink our reliance on the auto system. Maybe you think differently? You just love rideshares and would never get caught dead on a bus? We love a strong debate, so go ahead and make yourself heard
Maybe you think differently? You just love rideshares and would never get caught dead on a bus? We love a strong debate, so go ahead and make yourself heard.