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Uber still in the driver's seat in Innisfil

Nearly 95,000 trips were taken in to 2022, but questions remain around Cookstown; Town's subsidy for the service last year was $826,000
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The Town of Innisfil will continue to partner with Uber to provide public transit services for its residents.

Nearly 95,000 trips were taken in to 2022, the second most ever in the six-year partnership between the town and the ride-sharing service, an increase of almost 32,000 over the previous year.

More than 6,500 riders utilized Innisfil Transit’s door-to-door service, down 3,000 from the peak in 2019, where 9,500 riders took more than 102,000 trips.

Those figures beat the estimate for use in 2022 by about 35,000 trips and 2,000 riders.

Innisfil’s subsidy for the service last year was $826,000.

What dropped last year was the completion rate. For the second year in a row, that figure dipped below 80 per cent, with only 74 per cent of the requests being completed. Staff attributed that to the possibility that the supply of drivers does not always match the service demands, particularly when a wider range of peak demand hours were seen, suggesting a shift in commuter habits.

That said, more drivers were utilized by the program in 2022 than in any previous year.

Each year, council must decide if it wants to continue with the Uber partnership, and while that was never up for debate, the staff recommendation on the floor wasn’t passed without debate. Councillors took the opportunity to look at short- and long-term solutions to deficiencies in the transit system.

Deputy Mayor Kenneth Fowler and Coun. Fred Drodge were both keen to see a way Cookstown could benefit from the transit program the way most of the other communities in Innisfil do. For the deputy-mayor, it’s a matter of Cookstown being the odd village out.

“It’s very easy to get to Lefroy. It’s very easy to get to town hall. It’s very easy to get to Alcona. It’s very easy to get around town. But to get from anywhere in town to Cookstown has presented a problem, as there is no hub within Cookstown,” Fowler said.

Fowler’s amendment, supported by Drodge, called on staff to investigate adding a hub in Cookstown and what the impacts would be.

Drodge, who represents Cookstown in his ward, said through his discussions with staff, not putting a hub in Cookstown was as much an oversight as anything else.

“It wasn’t that Cookstown didn’t qualify to have a hub, I think it was simply not put into the original report,” Drodge said. “To hold this up would make no sense at all.”

There are seven hubs within Innisfil where riders can travel for a flat rate, including the Lakeshore Branch of the Innisfil ideaLAB and Library and Barrie South GO station. Fowler provided the example of those playing hockey in Lefroy, but living in Cookstown.

A Cookstown family currently can easily and inexpensively get to Lefroy during hockey season, with their gear loaded in the vehicle, and travel to the Morgan Russell Memorial Arena and Community Centre. But getting back is a different story. To get to the hub in Lefroy, a flat rate of $4 would be charged. Getting home, that family would pay the regular Uber fare, minus $4 for travelling in Innisfil.

If there was a hub in Cookstown, that’s extra money staying in the pocket of the residents, albeit likely at the expense of the municipality.

“Generally speaking, it would increase the level of subsidy and therefore the cost of the service,” explained Brandon Correia, manager of planning.

With that amendment passed, council turned its attention to a proposal brought forward by Coun. Jennifer Richardson. As part of approving another year of service, she wanted the municipality to undertake a survey of residents to determine exactly what is required for public transportation in Innisfil.

“When I was out campaigning, I know that fixed-route transit, the transit system, Uber, they were very big hot topics,” she said. “(Let’s) see what exactly is wanted, what is needed in this community, so we are all better prepared when we look at the next budget cycle in 2024.”

Fowler wasn’t sure the survey was required to determine what Richardson wanted to find out.

“As much I respect Coun. Richardson’s attempt to learn what people need, we have heard very clearly and directly what they need,“ he said. “This is not a one-time concern. This is a consistent problem since Uber has been in play … This has already been indemnified as a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Mayor Lynn Dollin also seemed hesitant to move forward with a survey unless it clearly defined the costs associated with public transit, reminding her colleagues of the burden it is on the tax levy.

“If you just say ‘do you want a bus going here, there and everywhere, everybody is going to say yes unless they understand the … cost that will be attached to it,” Dollin said.

The amendment to undertake a survey ultimately passed, thanks in part to guidance from staff.

Fixed routes were included as part of the town’s transportation masterplan, Correia told councillors, but where those routes would run and how they would be made up would be part of a transit masterplan, which is included in the 2024 budget.

“The survey itself I see as being data for the town and our partnerships and for the evolution of a transit masterplan,” he said.

Andria Leigh, director of planning and growth, took the idea one step further, but ensuring the survey is tied into the forthcoming transit masterplan, utilizing the consultants who will be retained for that process to properly conduct the survey and get the exact information the town is looking for.