If you look at infrastructure needed to build rural vibrancy, one of the most important dominos is public transportation. A lack of it is one of the most cited reasons for people to leave a rural area, and it makes recruiting new residents even more difficult. The ability to get to and from a store, school, church, sporting event or work is made affordable with public transportation.
With the exception of Transportation West, rural PEI does not have publicly supported transportation. While millions of government dollars – and this is not a complaint – have poured into building a sustainable model in Charlottetown-Cornwall-Stratford, rural communities are a wasteland.
Liberal and PC governments each refused to make the necessary investment. In lieu of a real plan, Transportation Minister Steven Myers is promising to bring forward legislation that will allow ride sharing operations, like Uber and PEI based Red Ride, to operate.
It’s an idea that looks good on paper, especially in the bowels of a centralized Charlottetown bureaucracy. Ride sharing is now routine in many large centres. Government sees its adoption here as a quick fix. It’s not. At best it is a single component of what must be a much larger effort.
Myers’ musings understandably angers Island taxi companies. They’ve invested years serving communities. Now the minister wants to change the playing field so government can claim some improvement in public transportation.
Like taxis, ride shares are for profit corporations. They are able to disrupt existing transportation options by mimicking the service without being burdened with the operational overhead or regulations.
It’s an unlevel playing field. Drivers are not employees earning salary and benefits. They are contractors, with no guarantee they meet the minimum standards expected of people entrusted with driving the public. Sector leaders, like Uber, have repeatedly been hit with questions about the treatment of and remuneration for its drivers.
In every jurisdiction ride shares enter, equity built up over years by existing firms evaporates overnight. The minister may be excited to talk to reporters about his Uber experience, but Myers does not mention the negative impact. Toronto cabbies are suing the city for $1.7 billion because the value of a taxi plate has plummeted from $400,000 to just $30,000.
That’s not fair. We need a strong cab industry because ride shares aren’t the cat’s meow for everyone.
This is not meant as an absolute defense of cab firms. They need to up their game. But simply allowing ride shares unfettered access will not solve the public transportation issue faced in rural PEI.
It is guaranteed to create new problems.
As a province do we really want a system that negatively impacts Transportation West, a vital link for 20 years to mentally and physically challenged residents of West Prince? It’s naïve to think it will not hurt the organization, which also relies on selling fares to the general public.
Transportation is too important for the King government to continue to do absolutely nothing to build the needed rural infrastructure. In a provincial budget of $2 billion plus, buying a small fleet of vans, cars and perhaps repurposing older school buses, could make a significant impact for reasonably minor investment.
Government should engage T3 Transit, which provides service to the Charlottetown area, about expanding to provide some level of consistent rural service. If it is not interested, there is potential to partner with local community organizations. Yes, there will be a cost, but the rural economy generates more than enough government revenue to justify the investment.
This should be the minister’s first action.
And if he insists on proceeding with ride share legislation, Steven Myers must provide a complete analysis of its impact on existing Island business and ensure that the legislative rule book he writes does not allow a new entrant a free ride. Because that is exactly what has happened in every other jurisdiction.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com