With Uber, Another Piece of the Future Has Landed

Uber representative Michael van Hemmen was in Saskatoon for the launch of the ride sharing service. Behind him is Michelle Okere from MADD Canada. (Photo by Cam Hutchinson)

On the day ride-hailing service Uber officially came to Saskatoon, which was last Tuesday, I was slated to meet a distant (but lovely) relative from Toronto at the beautiful Delta Bessborough (now also a Marriott. I can’t keep up with hotel branding around here.)

Here on business, my relly was staying at a different hotel, and hadn’t visited Saskatoon in something like 25 years. (I think he was zero at the time. OK, maybe five or something.) I wanted him to see the stately old dame, the lovely riverbank shrouded in icy mist, the pretty downtown — to go away feeling the heart of YXE.

Because both of us were on tight schedules, I drove to the Bess and he planned to hop a cab from his hotel for our 8:30 breakfast. 

Ah, the irony. It was minus a million, and the taxis were heavily booked. People in the Bessborough lobby waited a very long time for their own cabs. It took half an hour for my cousin to get a cab — from a hotel, mind, not from the boonies. Adding insult to transportation injury, eight blocks or whatever later, his cab was stopped by a very, very long train. Needless to say, he was significantly late for our date.

(I am going to write another cranky column about trains again soon. I am powerfully moved to do so at least twice a year. But for now, I’ll try to stick to the subject du jour.)

So yes, on the day Uber announced it was entering our market, my professional cousin was waylaid for 30 minutes because he couldn’t get a cab.

He was so good about it, too. He exclaimed over how beautiful the view was from the Bessborough restaurant window. How delicious the food was at the resto he had dined at the previous night, and how good the breakfast he was eating. And how seamless the taxi service had been from the airport the previous day.

He’s used to hailing Uber rides. In Toronto, at his condo, they arrive so quickly that he has to push the app button from the lobby, not from his apartment. Will we see that kind of service, too?

We might, at least downtown. We’re going to find out pretty quickly. The company already had its Uber Eats food delivery service functioning, so they had a feel for the market, I think, before launching passenger service. Which they did very, very quickly.

Saskatchewan paved the way (ha; see what I did there?) for Uber and similar companies such as Lyft in December, allowing them to come in and outlining the regulations they must meet. An Uber spokesperson, at the time, said she did not know when the company would start operating; but by the end of the month, it was recruiting drivers.

Just over a month later, on Feb. 5, Uber was in. It announced at city hall at 1:30 p.m., and boom, they were operating that freezing cold afternoon. 

I wish I was that fast at anything.

Of course, the taxi companies are not happy, and understandably. But it’s also true that, at busy times, Saskatoon is under-fixed for rides. Uber manages its system on a supply and demand basis — i.e., there are more cars available Saturday night at closing time than on Monday afternoon. As it should be, yes? I’m sure the cab companies do so as well, but I still think there aren’t enough of them at peak times.

I see two big benefits, then, to Uber. If I go out at night, I can 1) have a glass of wine again and 2) still have a reasonable chance of getting home. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have commented that drunk driving stops have dropped five per cent in communities with Uber. Just that is a big deal.

I suppose it remains to be seen whether Uber follows all the government rules and latches on here, but I have a fairly strong feeling that it will. Now that ride-hailing (aka ride-sharing) is regulated, it would be crazy not to follow along and get subsequently booted from a community. That kind of a reputational hit could mess with their chances of expansion. 

So here we go, Saskatoon. Another piece of the future has landed. It will be so interesting to see how we embrace it. 

On a minus-40 day, when you’re stuck for a ride, when your car doesn’t start, and when you’re in Saskatoon on business without a rental car, Uber will likely come in mighty handy. Not to mention when you’ve had a couple too many. 

Stay warm and safe out there.