Should Hamilton replace empty bus routes with ride-hailing services like Uber?

News Sep 09, 2020 by Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton Spectator

The province says Hamilton must look at swapping empty buses for Uber-like “microtransit” in order to access more emergency COVID cash for transit.

Microtransit often refers to partnerships with private transportation providers like Uber that offer flexible transit routes, ride-sharing capability and on-demand service via smartphone apps.

It’s not yet clear how or where such a service might be used in Hamilton — especially since the local bus drivers’ union has first dibs on any new transit service in the city. But at least one private “on-demand” transit company, Via, is already lobbying the city.

As first reported in the Toronto Star, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wrote to several cities last month to confirm a COVID cash infusion for transit agencies — including $17 million for Hamilton — but also to set conditions on any further bailout funding after September.

Hamilton’s letter, posted online ahead of a Wednesday meeting, requires the city to review its “lowest performing bus routes” to see if microtransit is a better fit. It also references looming discussions about regional “fare integration” and new “governance structures.”

The HSR is still “unsure” what the conditions means for its service and is awaiting details from the province, said spokesperson Amanda Kinnaird. Council had already cut 19,000 hours of “underperforming” bus service in March before the pandemic hit.

A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said via email that Ontario will work with cities “to evaluate low-volume routes” and determine whether microtransit options would be more affordable in a post-COVID world of lower ridership.

Ride-hailing giant Uber caused a buzz in 2017 when it partnered with Innisfil, Ont., to provide subsidized ride-sharing transit for the town of around 36,000. The experiment was popular, but spurred environmental criticism for putting more cars on the road and taxpayer concerns about rising costs.

Hamilton already uses one of the earliest versions of microtransit — a 20-year-old Trans-Cab taxi contracting service that links lower-demand areas in Stoney Creek with the rest of the HSR bus system.

But microtransit today boasts ride-matching and route optimization technology that outstrips “old school” services like Trans-Cab that depend on call-ahead bookings, said Hamish Campbell, manager of Canadian partnerships for on-demand transit company Via.

Real-time juggling of rider requests and routes, combined with easy online vehicle tracking, “is where our service really shines,” he said.

Via — not to be confused with Via Rail intercity trains — registered to lobby Hamilton council members earlier this summer. It also recently signed a contract to provide on-demand transit by passenger van to municipalities in west Niagara like Grimsby and Lincoln.

Campbell argued microtransit can provide “more efficient, flexible” service on low-demand transit routes, on weekends or after-hours — especially now, with pandemic fears pushing traditional bus ridership down by half.

He said the company can provide “turnkey” transit services — including software, drivers and vehicles. But Sault Ste. Marie, for example, is paying for Via ride-matching technology while using its own unionized operators driving existing municipal buses.

Hamilton’s bus union is open to experimenting with a microtransit expansion into “lower demand” areas like Flamborough — so long as the work remains “in house,” said ATU Local 107 president Eric Tuck, who noted the city is contractually obligated to give new transit work to union members.

“There could be a role (for microtransit), but we are serious about keeping transit public,” he said.

Tuck said the union also wants clarity from the province on what it considers a “low performing” bus route. “If ridership is poor, you need to look at the reasons first,” he said.

Councillor reactions to the idea vary.

Lloyd Ferguson said he is “always willing” to review services with an eye to finding efficiencies, especially with the city facing a multimillion-dollar COVID deficit.

But he noted the city has already cut the bus budget this year and serves low-demand areas with Trans-Cab. “I would think we’ve already met the conditions the province has set for us,” he said.

Coun. Maureen Wilson pointed out the city spent months consulting residents and preparing a “(Re) envision” HSR strategy to improve ridership — only to see it stalled by COVID. The Ward 1 councillor said she doesn’t want to “throw out” that work now in the face of a pandemic ridership dip.

Wilson also said any HSR changes must protect vulnerable transit users. So far, the ride-hailing experiments she has seen “tend to work better for those who are already wealthy ... they don’t do anything to improve equity.”

Should Hamilton replace empty bus routes with ride-hailing services like Uber?

Province wants the city to review bus routes with low ridership with an eye to using cheaper ‘microtransit’ alternatives like private ride-sharing companies.

News Sep 09, 2020 by Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton Spectator

The province says Hamilton must look at swapping empty buses for Uber-like “microtransit” in order to access more emergency COVID cash for transit.

Microtransit often refers to partnerships with private transportation providers like Uber that offer flexible transit routes, ride-sharing capability and on-demand service via smartphone apps.

It’s not yet clear how or where such a service might be used in Hamilton — especially since the local bus drivers’ union has first dibs on any new transit service in the city. But at least one private “on-demand” transit company, Via, is already lobbying the city.

As first reported in the Toronto Star, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wrote to several cities last month to confirm a COVID cash infusion for transit agencies — including $17 million for Hamilton — but also to set conditions on any further bailout funding after September.

Related Content

Hamilton’s letter, posted online ahead of a Wednesday meeting, requires the city to review its “lowest performing bus routes” to see if microtransit is a better fit. It also references looming discussions about regional “fare integration” and new “governance structures.”

The HSR is still “unsure” what the conditions means for its service and is awaiting details from the province, said spokesperson Amanda Kinnaird. Council had already cut 19,000 hours of “underperforming” bus service in March before the pandemic hit.

A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said via email that Ontario will work with cities “to evaluate low-volume routes” and determine whether microtransit options would be more affordable in a post-COVID world of lower ridership.

Ride-hailing giant Uber caused a buzz in 2017 when it partnered with Innisfil, Ont., to provide subsidized ride-sharing transit for the town of around 36,000. The experiment was popular, but spurred environmental criticism for putting more cars on the road and taxpayer concerns about rising costs.

Hamilton already uses one of the earliest versions of microtransit — a 20-year-old Trans-Cab taxi contracting service that links lower-demand areas in Stoney Creek with the rest of the HSR bus system.

But microtransit today boasts ride-matching and route optimization technology that outstrips “old school” services like Trans-Cab that depend on call-ahead bookings, said Hamish Campbell, manager of Canadian partnerships for on-demand transit company Via.

Real-time juggling of rider requests and routes, combined with easy online vehicle tracking, “is where our service really shines,” he said.

Via — not to be confused with Via Rail intercity trains — registered to lobby Hamilton council members earlier this summer. It also recently signed a contract to provide on-demand transit by passenger van to municipalities in west Niagara like Grimsby and Lincoln.

Campbell argued microtransit can provide “more efficient, flexible” service on low-demand transit routes, on weekends or after-hours — especially now, with pandemic fears pushing traditional bus ridership down by half.

He said the company can provide “turnkey” transit services — including software, drivers and vehicles. But Sault Ste. Marie, for example, is paying for Via ride-matching technology while using its own unionized operators driving existing municipal buses.

Hamilton’s bus union is open to experimenting with a microtransit expansion into “lower demand” areas like Flamborough — so long as the work remains “in house,” said ATU Local 107 president Eric Tuck, who noted the city is contractually obligated to give new transit work to union members.

“There could be a role (for microtransit), but we are serious about keeping transit public,” he said.

Tuck said the union also wants clarity from the province on what it considers a “low performing” bus route. “If ridership is poor, you need to look at the reasons first,” he said.

Councillor reactions to the idea vary.

Lloyd Ferguson said he is “always willing” to review services with an eye to finding efficiencies, especially with the city facing a multimillion-dollar COVID deficit.

But he noted the city has already cut the bus budget this year and serves low-demand areas with Trans-Cab. “I would think we’ve already met the conditions the province has set for us,” he said.

Coun. Maureen Wilson pointed out the city spent months consulting residents and preparing a “(Re) envision” HSR strategy to improve ridership — only to see it stalled by COVID. The Ward 1 councillor said she doesn’t want to “throw out” that work now in the face of a pandemic ridership dip.

Wilson also said any HSR changes must protect vulnerable transit users. So far, the ride-hailing experiments she has seen “tend to work better for those who are already wealthy ... they don’t do anything to improve equity.”

Should Hamilton replace empty bus routes with ride-hailing services like Uber?

Province wants the city to review bus routes with low ridership with an eye to using cheaper ‘microtransit’ alternatives like private ride-sharing companies.

News Sep 09, 2020 by Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton Spectator

The province says Hamilton must look at swapping empty buses for Uber-like “microtransit” in order to access more emergency COVID cash for transit.

Microtransit often refers to partnerships with private transportation providers like Uber that offer flexible transit routes, ride-sharing capability and on-demand service via smartphone apps.

It’s not yet clear how or where such a service might be used in Hamilton — especially since the local bus drivers’ union has first dibs on any new transit service in the city. But at least one private “on-demand” transit company, Via, is already lobbying the city.

As first reported in the Toronto Star, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wrote to several cities last month to confirm a COVID cash infusion for transit agencies — including $17 million for Hamilton — but also to set conditions on any further bailout funding after September.

Related Content

Hamilton’s letter, posted online ahead of a Wednesday meeting, requires the city to review its “lowest performing bus routes” to see if microtransit is a better fit. It also references looming discussions about regional “fare integration” and new “governance structures.”

The HSR is still “unsure” what the conditions means for its service and is awaiting details from the province, said spokesperson Amanda Kinnaird. Council had already cut 19,000 hours of “underperforming” bus service in March before the pandemic hit.

A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said via email that Ontario will work with cities “to evaluate low-volume routes” and determine whether microtransit options would be more affordable in a post-COVID world of lower ridership.

Ride-hailing giant Uber caused a buzz in 2017 when it partnered with Innisfil, Ont., to provide subsidized ride-sharing transit for the town of around 36,000. The experiment was popular, but spurred environmental criticism for putting more cars on the road and taxpayer concerns about rising costs.

Hamilton already uses one of the earliest versions of microtransit — a 20-year-old Trans-Cab taxi contracting service that links lower-demand areas in Stoney Creek with the rest of the HSR bus system.

But microtransit today boasts ride-matching and route optimization technology that outstrips “old school” services like Trans-Cab that depend on call-ahead bookings, said Hamish Campbell, manager of Canadian partnerships for on-demand transit company Via.

Real-time juggling of rider requests and routes, combined with easy online vehicle tracking, “is where our service really shines,” he said.

Via — not to be confused with Via Rail intercity trains — registered to lobby Hamilton council members earlier this summer. It also recently signed a contract to provide on-demand transit by passenger van to municipalities in west Niagara like Grimsby and Lincoln.

Campbell argued microtransit can provide “more efficient, flexible” service on low-demand transit routes, on weekends or after-hours — especially now, with pandemic fears pushing traditional bus ridership down by half.

He said the company can provide “turnkey” transit services — including software, drivers and vehicles. But Sault Ste. Marie, for example, is paying for Via ride-matching technology while using its own unionized operators driving existing municipal buses.

Hamilton’s bus union is open to experimenting with a microtransit expansion into “lower demand” areas like Flamborough — so long as the work remains “in house,” said ATU Local 107 president Eric Tuck, who noted the city is contractually obligated to give new transit work to union members.

“There could be a role (for microtransit), but we are serious about keeping transit public,” he said.

Tuck said the union also wants clarity from the province on what it considers a “low performing” bus route. “If ridership is poor, you need to look at the reasons first,” he said.

Councillor reactions to the idea vary.

Lloyd Ferguson said he is “always willing” to review services with an eye to finding efficiencies, especially with the city facing a multimillion-dollar COVID deficit.

But he noted the city has already cut the bus budget this year and serves low-demand areas with Trans-Cab. “I would think we’ve already met the conditions the province has set for us,” he said.

Coun. Maureen Wilson pointed out the city spent months consulting residents and preparing a “(Re) envision” HSR strategy to improve ridership — only to see it stalled by COVID. The Ward 1 councillor said she doesn’t want to “throw out” that work now in the face of a pandemic ridership dip.

Wilson also said any HSR changes must protect vulnerable transit users. So far, the ride-hailing experiments she has seen “tend to work better for those who are already wealthy ... they don’t do anything to improve equity.”