Uber, Lyft or public transit – what’s your choice?

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Sabrina Almeida

“Public transit here sucks,” complained a relative who recently immigrated from India. It had taken him almost three hours to get to Square One from my north-west Mississauga home and then back. A trip to Toronto a few days earlier took the same amount of time. While I had managed to parry most other unflattering comparisons to bustling Mumbai, there was no defense this time.
I sheepishly mumbled something about Mississauga being suburb and touted the TTC’s efficiency with great pride. But soon realized my mistake. It was one that only someone who rarely used the services would make. My son who travels to and within Toronto daily raised his eyebrows in disapproval. According to him delays are the norm which is why he prefers to take The Path to Ryerson (a 20-minute walk) rather than ride the TTC. It’s like rolling a dice to figure out what the reason for the service interruption would be, he says.

Friends who visited other countries including Bangkok have lamented at length about how Toronto and its suburbs lag so far behind in public transportation. And going by my personal experience, it would be unfair to London and Scotland to attempt any sort of comparison. How Mumbai services its roughly 18 million residents should be both a lesson and inspiration for our transit agencies here.

While we would all like to leave our cars at home, or better still in the showroom… the time and cost involved makes public transport neither convenient nor affordable.

A new immigrant who previously relied on Brampton transit is extremely thankful for the ride-sharing services. He says the battle for increased market share between Uber and Lyft has been especially beneficial to him. The consequent drop in pricing allows him to get home from his workplace in Mississauga in less than half the time. What’s more, it now costs him less than a bus ticket. You may argue that ride-share night rates are exorbitant but reduced transit service leaves commuters with little choice other than to plead with friends for a ride home.

Given this scenario, any attempts by Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and other municipalities to increase transit ridership (other than to improve service) and reduce traffic congestion are a wasteful exercise. I’m also told that bus service in cities like Oakville, Burlington and Hamilton is scarce. And inter-suburb connection virtually non-existent. The same relative was forced to turned down a job offer in Oakville as it involved taking 5 different buses from my home. Rewind to more than 7 years ago, when a friend from Mississauga who worked at an after-school program here relied on her social circle to commute rather than transit. It appears that little has changed since then.

Most transit plans revolve around connecting the suburbs to Toronto with little effort to improve frequency and connections within the cities themselves.

In the end it’s a vicious cycle. Poor service and the consequent decline in ridership result in even fewer buses or the cancellation of routes causing an even bigger problem for those who depend on it. Ride-sharing has thus become the preferred option prompting lots more operators to jump in.

Friends who joined Uber to make some extra cash are rarely idle. The winter time is especially lucrative for them as few commuters want to wait out in the cold for transit.

Not surprising therefore are media reports about small towns like Innisfil partnering with Uber rather than building a transit network. South of the border, Altamonte Springs in Florida is reported to have replaced public transit with subsidized Uber rides as well. Summit, New Jersey, on the other hand, gives Uber money to provide cheap rides to commuters travelling to and from the train station.

Driving by the swanky but largely-deserted Mississauga transitway stations at Cawthra, Erin Mills and Winston Churchill, one can’t help but think they are a colossal waste of resources. Does current usage justify the huge expenditure?

Politicizing infrastructure initiatives rather than planning them lies at the heart of our transportation woes. Moreover, constructing new public transit is a huge investment whose benefits can take years to materialize. Consequently, even the best projects can be tough to sell to the public. Which brings us back to using Uber, Lyft and whatever other ride-sharing service one can avail off! – CINEWS

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