A Simon Fraser University expert is calling a proposal by Saskatchewan’s Taxi Cab Association (STCA) a “damn good idea” and it’s one he says could spread to other jurisdictions.
Earlier this week, the STCA issued a release on behalf of Saskatoon’s 240 cab drivers calling for a “flex service” that would see cab drivers working out of private vehicles during peak service hours, arguing it would be a way to meet demand and improve public safety.
Lindsay Meredith, a professor emeritus at SFU’s Beedie School of Business and a marketing strategy expert, says he feels the proposal should have been introduced years ago, before Uber even arrived in Canada.
Under the STCA’s proposal, private vehicles, ordered through a smartphone app, would operate under the same restrictions as cabs which include criminal record checks, vehicle safety inspections and in-car cameras. The cars would only hit the streets during peak times, like after an event or to accommodate bar patrons, and Meredith said the idea “solves two problems.”
“It meets the direct Uber threat (and) it meets the issue of public distaste and downright nastiness, because they get tired of the peak-load capacity issue, and not having service when they want it,” he said.
In order to keep ride-sharing services at bay, Meredith said, incumbent cab companies have to have high cab availability and competitive pricing. He feels the STCA’s proposal does both, as it would allow more cars to operate on the road without purchasing more taxi licences and keep costs competitive by having flex service rates the same as traditional cabs.
Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which usually offer lower standard rates, apply surge pricing during peak hours.
“If you have no surge pricing, you’re letting the air out of their balloon,” he said. “That just might make them think twice about coming to Saskatoon too quickly — in which case — guess what, your incumbent wins.”
The first proposal of this kind that he’s aware of, he said it’s likely the idea will reach other jurisdictions, as other companies will be watching the process closely.
“Damn good ideas tend to spread,” he said.
The STCA said with the co-operation of Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) and the City of Saskatoon the flex service could be in place in time for the holiday season and officials with the City of Saskatoon are set to meet with the STCA on their proposal.
In Saskatchewan, ride-sharing services are not illegal, but are regulated, as a person must have their vehicle registered with SGI as a cab, a classification that sometimes requires municipal approval, like a taxi licence, and have a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance. People driving passengers for compensation without the proper licence or insurance could be subject to fines or loss of insurance.
Uber Canada spokesperson Jean-Christophe de le Rue said in a statement that Uber “welcome(s) all innovation that would better serve Saskatoon and hope to see the provincial government soon provide workable ride-sharing rules that will help reduce impaired driving and provide safe and reliable alternative transportation options.”
The idea also has support from the city’s largest entertainment venue: SaskTel Centre.
“Anything will help,” said executive director, Scott Ford. “Especially on a Friday or a Saturday, when it’s already a busy weekend for cab companies, the fleets aren’t big enough to service demand. And for large events that happen at SaskTel Centre, we always have lots of customers waiting for cabs quite late.”
“It’s a step in the right direction for sure,” he added.