'You might go home with nothing': A normally busy season for Saskatoon cab drivers dries up due to coronavirus
SASKATOON -- Business for Saskatoon cab driver Murray Hume is slow these days, with fewer people out and about during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic first started, they took about two-thirds of the fleet off [the road],” the Riide driver said. “It was tolerable' You could actually make a living.”
Hume says with more drivers back on the job, there aren’t enough fares to go around.
“I've got like less than $50 in and it's just about noon, and usually when business is good I shoot for about $150 by noon,” he said. “I don't think I'll break $100 today period.”
And what he’s able to take home ends up being even less, he says, after paying office fees and buying gas for every shift.
“If you have a day where you don't make a hundred bucks, you're going to pay $90 for your shift, then gas, and you might go home with nothing.”
Hume says bars and nightclubs closing earlier under provincial restrictions are hurting night drivers, as well as a lack of Christmas parties this year.
“You might wait an hour, hour and a half for a trip, and if it's a $6 or $7 trip for them, you made that $6 for an hour and a half, that's not minimum wage, even,” he said.
Hume believes cab ridership will return to normal once a COVID-19 vaccine is distributed and people get back into their regular routines, but in the meantime, the lack of business has him thinking about a change in profession after nearly 40 years of driving.
“If somebody came up to me and offered me a good job right now, I probably wouldn't say no. And believe me, the thought has crossed my mind.”
Transit seeing sluggish numbers
Ridership on Saskatoon Transit was down 92% when the pandemic began, according to Director of Transit Jim McDonald.
He says that number has since increased, but the department is projecting a nearly $6 million decrease in revenue for 2020.
“We are at around 50% of our ridership historically, but when we include what we used to see from university students with the U. Pass, then we're only at about 30 to 35 per cent of our ridership,” he said.
“We're still seeing about 13,000 people riding the buses every day.”
To increase numbers even further, McDonald says they’ve increased frequency and cleaning protocols, and have introduced a pilot project called Transit On Demand.
“We'll be playing with that a bit more, as more and more cities are doing. This is kind of Uber for big bus,” he said. “It's a little bit more efficient than your just regular dial-a-bus, and I think it’s proving valuable.”
The service is currently offered in the city's North Industrial area, which includes Costco on Marquis Road, Lawson Heights, downtown, City Park, River Heights, Silverwood, and Preston Crossing.
“It could very easily become sort of like the gap filler, or the new service into a neighbourhood, a starting point where you just use that until you've got a critical mass of people to put stops in and start regular service.”