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Editorial: Is there enough demand for ride-sharing in Estevan?

An opinion piece on the latest discussion on potential for ride-sharing services in Estevan.

What seemed to be a long-dormant debate in Estevan was thrust back into the spotlight last week with a discussion at Estevan city council.

Should Estevan allow ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft into our community?

That's not going to be the focus of this editorial, although we will say that if these companies are allowed to operate, then they absolutely have to play a level playing field with taxi cab companies.

The comparison between taxis and ride-sharing services isn't the apples-to-apples proposition it seems to be on the surface, but there are a lot of similarities and taxi companies understandably get in a huff when Uber is brought up.

The city can't bend over backwards to try to get Uber, Lyft or other companies here, but these businesses have to have a reasonable chance of success, just like any other business coming to Estevan.

The bigger question that needs to be asked is would there be enough demand for ride-sharing services to succeed?

We have no doubt that there would be a few dozen nights in which a ride-sharing service would be a welcome addition to the community. It was mentioned at last week's council meeting that a local bar had a party over the Christmas break, on the same night there was another function happening in town. When 2 a.m. rolled around and patrons were ready to go home, there weren't enough taxis available, and the bar owner had to drive people home.

When you get into the bar business, you know you're going to have nights in which you have to deal with adversity. But you maybe don't expect you'll have to drive a large number of people home after 2 a.m.

Most nights there are enough taxi cabs to meet the demand of the community. The companies do an admirable job of keeping pace with reasonable demand and getting people home safely, even if their customers live outside of the city limits. They're an invaluable resource in the never-ending fight with impaired driving.

On a night like the one mentioned above, you can be sure the taxi company drivers didn't stop for hours. No doubt, they were in desperate need of a coffee break.

But what about all those nights when our taxi companies are able to keep pace with the demand, in which we're only waiting five to 10 minutes for a ride? What would a ride-share company think then?

People are creatures of habit. Those who are used to taxi companies are more likely to turn to them first. They've undoubtedly heard of Uber, maybe have used it rather than a taxi in a larger centre, or they know of somebody who has had a positive experience using it. But they'll be loyal to the taxi firm until they have a reason to think otherwise.

Yes, there are those who are younger and from larger markets who are well-versed with Uber or Lyft and would call them first, but under-35 people from metropolitan areas are not the dominant demographic in our community. (We're certainly thrilled to have them here).

Estevan is probably too small for Uber or Lyft to consider. There are likely communities larger than us that wouldn't be on their radar. Yes, there are smaller communities that have these outfits, but those are communities like Banff with large tourist bases that swell their population throughout the year.

We have some nice attractions here, but tourism isn't the driving force of our economy.

City council has opted to survey whether people want to see ride-sharing services available. That's fine. We hope people with an interest will take the time to look at it and respond, rather than just yap on social media.

We'll see what the community has to say, and if there is an appetite to have such a service in our community.

We're not convinced there is an appetite for those companies to come here.