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OPINION: Uber P.E.I. offers possibilities

Matthew Cassidy, vice-president of T3 Transit, said the electric demo bus used this week was quieter and smoother on the road compared to diesel buses.
Matthew Cassidy, vice-president of T3 Transit, said the electric demo bus used this week was quieter and smoother on the road compared to diesel buses. - Terrence McEachern

Why wait for artificial intelligence when we can use our own brains right now for a common-sense solution

BY OLE HAMMARLUND

GUEST OPINION

The success of our T3 public transportation system is impressive. Over just a few years the system has expanded into all three capital municipalities with regular schedules that accommodate many people.

Meanwhile our taxi companies offer very reasonable fares for door to door service.

RELATED: Electric school buses being considered for P.E.I.

Yet all is not right. Our buses are mostly near empty, transportation is not available in rural areas, and our roads are mostly filled with cars with just the one person in the driver’s seat. Door-to-door service is just too wonderful to resist despite the high cost.

With our small market and low cab fares we can’t expect Uber to move in anytime soon. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe we should develop our own Island-bred solution, keeping our money on P.E.I. instead of supporting corporate giants.

Clearly what is needed is an app for our phones that lets drivers and riders connect seamlessly, including fair compensation, so that most cars and buses on the road are full instead of nearly empty.

There are two obvious areas needing this service.

One is in the suburbs where the distances between the houses are large and walking a long distance to the wait at a bus stop is unattractive, especially in bad weather. Here a van-sized cab connected to riders with smartphones would be ideal, to collect passengers at their front door and deliver them in a timely manner to the public transit bus.

service may be best provided by existing cab drivers with an expanded license that allows for picking up multiple passengers in multiple locations. In many cities, you can get a transfer ticket from one bus to the next one. would be a great idea for P.E.I. Cab passengers should receive a free transfer to the buses. The buses in turn would make their fare when the passenger returned and buses would probably double the ridership at no increase in cost.

In the rural areas, the distances are even more daunting and options not existing. Many people already have informal car sharing arrangements with the rider often paying $5 or more for door to door service to a neighbor. Why not expand it, so that anyone planning to drive to town can announce it on a Facebook like program and look for passengers willing to share the expense? Why not cover the driver’s insurance so both driver and passenger are protected?

A program like Facebook is critical, because you obviously want to know, who you are riding with, whether you are the driver or passenger. We also need a rating system similar to what is available at Airbnb, where both guests and hosts are rated. Obviously abbreviated drivers or rude passengers are not wanted.

What we need now is the funding to develop and run the programming for the app. Seems to me that the province and feds would jump to this opportunity, that would simultaneously increase transportation options, reduce carbon emissions and create jobs. This is an obvious job for the government to step in. There is no lack of local talent for doing the work, and the software needed could be exported to other communities like ours.

has been a lot of talk about self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. In my opinion those futuristic things are over-rated. I prefer a human being driving me and why wait for artificial intelligence when we can use our own brains right now for a common-sense solution. Let’s call my proposed app Virtual AI to increase the chance of funding. Virtual AI of course just means common sense, but as we all know, you will never get funding for that.

Ole Hammarlund is a Charlottetown architect and frequent commentator on clean energy issues

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