Ride-hailing company started in Thunder Bay hopes to set up in Brandon

A ride-hailing company wants to be the first of its kind to set up shop in southwestern Manitoba’s biggest city.

Canadian company Uride told Brandon city council Monday it wants to have a fleet of drivers in the Wheat City by the end of the year. Founder and CEO Cody Ruberto says the company focuses on smaller Canadian cities that may have limited transportation options.

Uride has been eyeing launching in Brandon for about four years.

“We’ve wanted to come to Brandon for a really long time,” Ruberto said. “Everyone in Brandon deserves access to safe, reliable, affordable transportation.… People need options.”

The company is working with the City of Brandon to navigate regulations and bylaws that would allow it to launch, Ruberto said.

The biggest issue is the existing taxi bylaw doesn’t account for or allow for ride-hailing, he says. This means the language in the existing bylaw needs to change to include ride-hailing licensing, fees, insurance, operating provisions and other regulations.

This is the first time a potential ride-hailing option has been brought before city council, said Merrilea Metcalf, a City of Brandon communications officer.

Now, Uride needs to go to the taxi appeal committee — a subcommittee of the city council sometime before the end of September.

“Right now the City of Brandon has a taxi bylaw and it’s applicable solely to taxicab owners and drivers with the aim of safeguarding public safety within the city,” Metcalf said. “Should there be an interest to see other alternatives like rideshare enterprises or other operations, then this taxi bylaw would need to be updated.”

Once this taxi appeal committee has heard the Uride presentation and discussed what they feel it needs to see, it can make recommendations to the city council on what to do next, Metcalf said.

More safe options needed in Brandon: CEO

Uride focuses on smaller cities and towns that don’t have access to reliable transportation, Ruberto said. Users download the Uride app to book a driver. As they wait for their ride they can watch in real time how close the driver is to picking them up.

It launched seven years ago in Thunder Bay, Ont., “a small town, and basically there was no ridesharing there,” Ruberto said.

From there Uride grew and is in five provinces across more than a dozen cities. He said they all share the issue of needing more transportation options to help curb impaired driving.

“People used to be waiting over an hour for taxis. Impaired driving was a huge problem,” Ruberto said. “I’ve had friends that have been killed by impaired drivers, and growing up … my best friend’s brother was actually driving drunk and killed someone.”

Ride-hailing apps have the potential to help prevent impaired driving because it’s another option people have to get home safe, said Vicki Renwick, the treasurer for the Brandon and area chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

“There’s a lot of tools out there that people can use to not drive impaired and the more tools that we can get the better,” Renwick said.

“Impaired driving kills and there’s so many options out there even in small communities where there aren’t taxis, there aren’t Ubers. There’s always friends, there’s always families, there’s so many options … there’s so many options that a person can make, either than driving impaired.”

Manitoba Public Insurance data shows that between 2016 and 2022, one in four fatal collisions in Manitoba involved an impaired driver, causing an average of 26 deaths per year.

A woman smiles wearing a MADD ribbon.
Vicki Renwick, the treasurer for the Brandon and area chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), says ride-hailing apps have the potential to help prevent impaired driving because it’s another option people have to get home safe. (Submitted by Vicki Renwick)

The Brandon Police Service says there have been 19 impaired criminal charges and 26 immediate roadside prohibitions where a driver is not criminally charged as of April 30 this year. The city of 54,000 saw 63 impaired driver criminal charges in 2023 and 68 roadside prohibitions in 2023.

Outside of Brandon, other MADD chapters have worked with ride-hailing companies like Uber to promote safe driving, Renwick said.

These potential partnerships are exciting because they can help prevent impaired driving, Renwick said. It’s also important for smaller MADD chapters like Brandon because they have a small volunteer base.

This makes it essential to have extra hands helping prevent impaired driving, she said.

“Rideshares and stuff and any of those groups, if they want to team up we certainly would be open to that and encourage people,” Renwick said. “At the end of the day, we can’t force people to make better decisions, but we can sure keep trying.”