Dave Hardy and Jeremiah Pariag of the INS were lucky enough to interview Brett Chang of Uber. Brett is a Senior Policy Advisor at Uber and has been instrumental in the Uber/Innisfil partnership. In Ontario and around the world, this partnership has the potential to serve as a model for how a private sector company, such as Uber, can effectively work with a public entity to solve transit needs. It also has the potential to be one of the first steps towards the integration of ridesharing in transit and transportation masterplans.
For years, planners and transportation experts have been struggling to solve the problem of First Mile/Last Mile, which is essentially connecting people from their homes to transit hubs without the use of their personal vehicles. Uber, and other ridesharing companies, are currently providing a solution for this, proving that ridesharing can be a strong compliment to public transit, and in the case of Innisfil, can sometimes provide a more feasible, efficient, and reliable system.
The partnership between Uber and Innisfil has been promising so far, and the INS is excited to see to future of the ridesharing industry and what we hope is a complementary relationship between this industry and the planning sector.
If you are hoping to learn more about the Uber/Innisfil project, join us for our upcoming April event. The INS is proud to welcome Brett Chang for our next speaking event, as well as members of Peel Region staff who will discuss the aggressive modal shift that the region is striving for. The event will be held on April, 30th from 9:00AM to 12:00PM at the Chinguacousey Ski Chalet in Brampton, Ontario. Tickets can be purchased at INSPeelRegion.eventbrite.com
Jeremiah: Can you tell us about yourself and your educational background?
Brett: I went to the University of Toronto for undergrad and majored in History and Political Science. After leaving U of T, I worked in politics for about 6-8 months, as well as during university. After leaving politics, I worked in tech for a bit and then started a company called Adrenaline, a digital public affairs agency which we ended up selling to another public affairs agency. Then, I started Line 6, which was an alternative transit startup that we did for about a year before moving to Uber.
Jeremiah: How did you get involved with Uber?
Brett: That actually goes back to Line 6. Line 6 was a crowd-funded bus that was running from Liberty Village to Union Station. At about the same time that we launched, Uber X was also launched in Toronto. I met with Ian Black who, at the time, was the General Manager of Uber in Ontario, and he invited me to join the team which I did as a Marketing Manager in 2016 and that’s how it all began.
Jeremiah: What area of Uber do you work in now?
Brett: I work in public policy. I work with governments to help to develop smart regulations for ridesharing and also work with them on partnerships to help solve some of their mobility challenges.
Jeremiah: When working with governments, who would you typically work with?
Brett: There is a mix, it is mostly municipalities, but there are instances that we work directly with the Province. So, those might be if we’re working on a partnership with Metrolinx as well as the Ministry of Transportation, but if there are agencies and particular municipalities that are interested in partnering with us, we’ll work with them. Then, on the regulatory front in Ontario, ridesharing is regulated at the city-level, so it is strictly municipalities
Jeremiah: From working on the Public Policy Team at Uber, what have you learned?
Brett: What I have learned is that, by working with governments and developing smart, innovative solutions to some of their problems, these types of partnerships can really make a positive impact on their residents’ lives.
Jeremiah: Are towns, cities, and municipalities embracive of Uber? Have you run into any issues?
Brett: Well, I think that if you follow Uber and other ridesharing companies around the world, there is obviously a debate about how it should be regulated. I think we’re really happy with where we’ve ended up to date in Ontario and I think what we’re seeing now is a shift towards municipalities engaging directly with ridesharing providers like Uber to develop partnerships and solutions to tackle their big mobility challenges. I think that’s really exciting and it’s something we’re looking to do a lot more of.
Jeremiah: In those situations, did the municipalities typically approach Uber?
Brett: It’s a mix – so there are instances where we engage directly with the municipalities and sometimes they reach out to us, so it really depends.
Jeremiah: Could you tell me more about the Innisfil project and why it’s been so successful?
Brett: Innisfil came to us about a year or year-and-a-half ago. They had a transportation consultancy do a feasibility study on if transit made sense in the Town. They came back with a traditional bus solution with one-bus and two-bus options. The Town determined that they could not justify paying the high capital and operating cost of running a one-bus or two-bus service when it would only cover a very limited amount of the population and only operate at very specific times.
So, when looking for an alternative, the great Town staff that really likes to think outside of the box and do innovative things came to us with interest in partnering on a potential system. So, what we came up with was a dynamic transit service where anyone in the Town of Innisfil can request a ride on the Uber app – there is an option called “Innisfil Transit” in the application. They put in their pick up location and destination. If their destination is one of the five or six popular destinations in the Town, like the library, the recreation centre, or the town hall, they are then eligible for a flat fare. If they are going anywhere else in the Town, outside of the popular destination, they receive an automatic $5 discount on all of their rides, which can be used for any trips going to Innisfil or leaving Innisfil.
Jeremiah: Has response been positive?
Brett: What’s really exciting is that over the course of the past nine months since we launched the service, thousands of Innisfil residents use the service to get to doctor’s appointments, to get to the hockey rink, and get to the Town Hall for services. It’s these stories that really demonstrate the value that this service adds to the community. From the Town and from our end, we view this as a real success and are really proud of the results to date.
Jeremiah: Could you tell me a bit more about how well Uber works with the Town of Innisfil and the strong working relationship?
Brett: it’s a true partnership. It’s been quite an interesting experience coming from the private sector and working with a public entity. Obviously, there are compromises that need to be made, but we both go into it being honest and transparent about what we can and cannot do and I think it’s been a really effective relationship to date, and I’m really looking forward to working with the Town for years to come.
Jeremiah: That’s great to hear! So what has Uber learned from the experience gained through the Innisfil project?
Brett: What we’re learning is that ridesharing can really be part of the solution. Municipalities around the world – big and small – have their own, unique transportation challenges. In a city like Oakville, for example, they have an issue with First Mile/Last Mile – how to get residents that live away from commuter rail stations, but use them frequently, out of their cars and connect them to that station so they don’t have to drive and have an alternate means to get there.
Extending that reach is of interest to those types of municipalities. In the case of Innisfil, in a less dense, more sparsely populated community, how do you provide reliable and affordable transit to residents with the same objective of getting people out of their cars? What we’re realizing more and more is that ridesharing services can be part of that solution.
Jeremiah: Innisfil is obviously significantly less dense than Toronto. How does density affect companies like Uber?
Brett: There is a lot of benefit to using Uber as a transit option vs. traditional transit. One reason being the reach of it. Because of how Uber operates with its door-to-door service, we can pick someone up at their door and take them directly to their destination. We cover the entire Town, whereas a traditional bus service would cover one route. In the case of Innisfil, regardless if the one-bus or two-bus solution was chosen, it would only really cover the main road and a few side roads, and really that would only reach 30% to 40% of the population. The service that we’re currently providing to Innisfil covers all of the population, and more importantly, it does so available 24/7. A traditional bus service, because of labour costs and operation constraints, was only planned to operate from 7:00AM to 6:00PM. Uber can offer service to residents when they need it most, whether that be at rush hour or late at night. I think those are the two biggest features of using Uber as an alternative or as a compliment to public transit in a community like Innisfil.
Jeremiah: Do you think Uber works better in areas with denser populations?
Brett: The denser the population, the easier it is to share rides. So if you are using a service like UberPool, that matches different riders going in the same direction, it is a lot easier to do that if there is a high liquidity of trips. So if there are a concentration of riders, it is a lot easier to match them up. It’s a lot tougher if it is a less dense, more sparsely populated area because there are less people requesting trips at any given moment, so it is hard to match them all up. That would be the biggest benefit of having a highly concentrated population vs. one that is sparser.
Jeremiah: Does Uber believe that the Innisfil model can be replicated in other Canadian towns and cities?
Brett: Innisfil has a lot of unique features that allowed for this project to work, and I think that every municipality has their own very unique challenges. Our commitment is that we want to work with municipalities to develop custom, tailor-made solutions to fit their specific needs. So, I don’t think you could take the Innisfil model and apply it to every municipality in the country – that’s clearly not the case. If you were to use the Innisfil model in Toronto it would be extensive and unaffordable for the City and for the transit agency, but there are different ways that we could work with a bigger city – like Toronto – to complement their existing network. So, while it’s not all plug-and-play, there are many opportunities for us to work in municipalities and transit agencies to help them solve some of their transportation challenges.
Jeremiah: Are there any Cities or Towns, similar to the size and density of Innisfil that Uber is thinking of using a similar model in?
Brett: There are a lot of places that Uber currently operates in Ontario that we would be very interested in working with the Government to expand the service and make us part of their public transportation offering. Durham Region and Halton Region are two places where there is limited public transportation, and Uber could really fill in this gap; however, that is very dependent on if the municipality decides to work with us.
Dave: Having a background in transportation master planning, we worked with HDR to do the Durham Region Transit Masterplan, but Uber wasn’t around back then. What I’m seeing is that every Region needs to do a transportation or transit masterplan and Uber fits in nicely to accommodate for challenges that traditional transit cannot deal with. Transit masterplans look 50 years ahead. Do you think that Uber and other ridesharing companies could revolutionize how transit and transportation masterplans are developed?
Brett: Uber and ridesharing services can augment existing transit networks and that’s very important. Alternative modes to transportation, specifically alternatives to car ownership, have a single goal – how do you get people out of their cars and use other modes of transport? Whether that be biking, walking, or transit, I think we’re all agnostic as long as they're not driving their own vehicles. When looking 50 years ahead and predicting what transit will look like then is very challenging, and Uber is a great example of that. If you go back 10 years and look at some of the transit masterplans created in the GTA, it would have been impossible to predict Uber, but I do think that the interesting thing about Uber is that it is not a solution that is 50 years away – it is something that can be used right now and can be used to complement the existing infrastructure that already exists – at a cost that is lower than any other type of improvement that you can make to the service.
Dave: With the rise of electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and AI, overall atmospheric emissions and congestion should be more manageable in the future. Is Uber thinking about this?
Brett: Yes, and it's already kind of happening. Carpooling has always been a pipedream of governments, but it hasn’t really taken off and has never really been adopted at scale; but, since the launch of services like UberPool, you can actually see carpooling at scale. Hundreds-of-thousands of Torontonians are now taking what is essentially a carpool service every month where they are travelling in one direction and are matched up with other people that they don’t know who are travelling in the same direction. This takes AI to match people up who are going on a single route with the idea of taking cars off the road and improving the efficiency of the vehicles being operated.
When looking at things like autonomous vehicles, I think that autonomous vehicles only help the situation when they are shared. If you have autonomous vehicles without any sharing, you are just adding vehicles to the road which would only make congestion worse. Really, the ultimate solution is having a shared network of autonomous vehicles that are driving around all the time and matching other people who are going in the same direction, rather than everyone having an autonomous vehicle.
Jeremiah: Typically, transit masterplans only recommend traditional modes of transportation. Do you think that there should be a consideration for Uber when creating new transit masterplans?
Brett: I know that these masterplans tend to look ahead, but what is really upsetting is that Uber offers solutions to transit agency challenges that can really be enacted now. There are three areas that I can see ridesharing services having the most impact for transit agencies. One is First Mile/Last Mile. This is the problem of how to connect people to transit hubs without taking their vehicle. I think Uber can be very helpful for that and be much more affordable than building a traditional transit system that would accommodate that exact need. Secondly, I think that on the accessibility front, transit can really benefit from a dynamic service like Uber. I think Uber and transit together could really make a big impact on acceptable transportation in this Province and finally deliver affordable and reliable transit that Ontarians with accessibility needs deserve. Lastly, the Innisfil model, while not exactly replicable to every small municipality in the Province, can really have a positive impact on communities where it does make sense, and I think we’ve seen that in Innisfil and I’m excited to see that happen in other places as well.
Thanks for reading! If you would like to learn more about the Uber/Innisfil projec feel free to join us for our event on April 30th, 2018. Tickets can be purchased at INSPeelRegion.eventbrite.com