REGINA - Some people on the front lines of Saskatchewan's drunk-driving battle aren't convinced that changes meant to allow Uber or Lyft to operate in the province will do much to keep impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.
Joe Hargrave, minister for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, introduced a bill last week that would allow companies to provide a vehicle and driver — through a digital platform or app — for pre-arranged transportation.
Hargrave said a strong reason for the proposed legislation is to give impaired drivers another option for getting home.
But the operator of a service that gets drivers and their vehicles home safe said the main reason people still drink and drive — despite penalties and public safety education — is that they don't want to leave their cars behind.
"Some people out there, it's their business vehicle, and if they're in construction or a trade they may have a whole bunch of tools in the back of their vehicle. You're risking the loss of thousands of dollars in tools," said Tony Fiacco of First Choice Designated Driver Service, which offers services in Regina and Saskatoon.
"We've had cases where we've had a person call us for our service and it may have taken longer than what they wanted it to take. They hopped into a taxi, went to their destination, went back the following day and their vehicle has been totally demolished.
"All their windows knocked out, all their possessions taken out, because they didn't want to wait that half hour."
Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of impaired driving in Canada. Statistics Canada says there were 683 police-reported impaired driving cases per 100,000 population in Saskatchewan in 2011. The Canadian average was 262.
Trina Cockle, president of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in Prince Albert, Sask., said ride-hailing services might help curb impaired driving in larger cities such as Regina and Saskatoon, but she isn't sure they'd be feasible anywhere else.
"If I live in Paddockwood, a small farm community ... the concept of someone coming out to this farmhouse that doesn't even have an address, how would that work?" she asked.
Jean-Christophe de la Rue, a spokesman for Uber Canada, said in an email that Uber's operations in Saskatchewan would begin in urban areas.
He noted that earlier this year the company partnered with the Ontario town of Innisfil on the western shore of Lake Simcoe. It is subsidizing the cost of rides for its approximately 36,000 residents instead of operating a traditional transit service.
"We are pleased that the government of Saskatchewan is introducing legislation to enable ride-sharing and look forward to collaborating with them," de la Rue said.
Cockle pointed out that taxis aren't even an option in some parts of rural Saskatchewan, and when there's a house party or a wedding, guests don't have many options for rides.
She suggested Uber could possibly offer services in smaller towns if drivers knew about such events.
Fiacco, who lost a son to drunk driving in 1989, said he'd like the province to make it easier for services like his to get insurance. He said that when he and his wife started their service in Regina five years ago, it was hard to make Crown-owned SGI understand that customers would be riding home in the passenger seats of their own vehicles.
He said he was successful in persuading the insurer, but had trouble again when he needed to renew.
"You need to take care of our own homegrown businesses before we allow other services to come in from other provinces and countries."
— By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton