Reliable transportation and having a safe way to get home.
It is something that can easily be taken for granted when you have a license and a vehicle and are capable of driving yourself. But take away just one of those factors and you’re in a situation that is a lot more frustrating and uncertain. It is something Cody Ruberto saw being a constant problem in his hometown of Thunder Bay.
“Most of the best businesses start with a problem,” says Ruberto.
“I was playing soccer overseas, and I had a serious injury. I needed a couple of surgeries in the United States, and I knew I was going to be out of soccer for a while, so I was back in Thunder Bay and any time I would go out for dinner with friends or out to the bar, at the end of the night you would see crowds of people stranded with no ride home. Sometimes in minus 30-degree weather.”
Ruberto says, “I used to just give people free rides. I rarely ever drink and so I would just fill my car with strangers and give free rides, but I could not make a dent into those crowds. I had used ride-sharing in bigger markets in other cities and I thought that we could actually solve that problem in Thunder Bay.”
That’s when Ruberto started to read the bylaws surrounding ride-sharing and taxi licenses in his hometown and approached the organizers of his local Operation Red Nose; the program allows anyone who has had a drink or doesn't feel fit to drive, to simply pick up the phone and call a number and a team of volunteers would pick them up the caller and drive them, and their vehicle home.
“Operation Red Nose which is a great operation and I said to them ‘instead of just running for the month of December, we could do this year-round and probably save lives and prevent accidents,’” says Ruberto.
“So, I proposed to help get everything off the ground and run everything through donations. It went to head office and actually got turned down. I’m a pretty stubborn person and I didn’t want to give up on this idea, so I just went back to the bylaws and discovered that limousine companies could set their own rates. I didn’t have a lot of money at this time, I had to pay for a few of those surgeries out of pocket and was in a pretty rough spot financially, so I needed a partner.”
Ruberto took the same pitch to a limousine company in Thunder Bay and they liked the idea and jumped on board.
“So in the early days of Uride, a luxury SUV would pull up and take you home and the goal was to give rides in under 10 minutes.”
Ruberto is the CEO of Uride and he says, “It was pretty incredible and the company started buying more cars but we still got to a point where there was too much of a demand to keep up with, so we had to partner with other companies so that we could have more vehicles on the road. Then we started looking into getting ridesharing insurance and it was a 10-month process to make it happen.”
He says for his business to get off the ground it took a lot of hard work and dedication and they are now operational in 10 smaller cities in Ontario and around the country, including in North Bay. Ruberto is also a CEO who has done the hard work.
“Right after we launched, I had two major hip operations and so I was on crutches for five months,” he says.
“I was living in my uncle’s basement. Any time calls came in, I would have to crutch my way through the house, sometimes at 4 a.m., waking everyone up in the process, and I would pick up passengers and they would see my crutches and start getting concerned, but I just had to reassure them it was a surgery I had. There was a lot of chaos in those early days and a lot of hard work, but fortunately, we got a lot of great people that came on board in terms of management and drivers. We actually started to make a difference in solving this problem.”
Ruberto says there is a moment that stands out that really showed him this company he had started was actually making an impact.
“About a month after launching, I saw a taxi pull up to a bar and sat there waiting for a ride. I had never seen that before, you would normally always see people rushing for it and fighting to get into the cab, but this one pulled up and was just sitting there.”
He adds, there have been times where this app may have tangibly saved a life.
“There is no excuse for drinking and driving ever, but now we’re trying to make that even easier for people. You pull out your phone, you click a button and there’s someone coming to get you within 10 minutes to take you home safely. I’ve driven people who have just straight up told me ‘hey if you hadn’t shown up tonight, I would’ve been driving and I have been drinking’ and when they tell you that, you know you’re making a difference,” says Ruberto.
The safety aspect is also a factor in the interaction between driver and passenger.
“On the Uride app, you get the license plate, name, and photo of the driver and what make and model the car is so you know exactly who is picking you up. Our drivers all pass background checks, they have all passed vehicle safety tests, they all have clean driving records, so there are a lot of checks before someone can get on board with this. As soon as the driver turns their app on, they switch from their personal insurance over to our commercial insurance so that they are protected,” says Ruberto who made it a point to look at the safety of the drivers as well.
“Driving a taxi is a tough job, we have a lot of former taxi drivers that drive for us and some of the stories I’ve heard are pretty scary,” he says.
“I’ve heard of people getting robbed at gunpoint, you just don’t know who is getting in your car. For Uride, every passenger needs to have a credit card and they have a cell phone on file so if you’re a driver you know who is getting into your car and there has rarely been an incident where the driver’s safety is at risk. People also pay through the app so there is no cash exchanged.”
However, it wasn’t just closing time that made Ruberto push so hard to see a solution for reliable transportation.
“We started this company to prevent impaired driving and to get people home safe, but needing a safe and reliable ride, doesn’t just exist when people are trying to leave the bar at 2 a.m. Someone’s grandparent who might need to go to their doctor's appointment on a Monday afternoon could be waiting an hour to get there and then another hour on the way back,” says Ruberto.
“There are people who don’t drive who have to go through this experience every single day. Can you imagine having that feeling of not knowing how you’re going to get to that next place you need to be all the time? We want to just continue doing our best to solve that problem.”
He says discussions surrounding this issue on a municipal level are starting to happen. Communities are trying to find ways to ease the tax burden and one big cost every year is public transportation.
“I think some cities are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars a year to keep sparsely used bus routes operating and, in those scenarios, using ride-sharing is a great option and this is a conversation that is happening in some cities, especially those that are low density,” says Ruberto.
He adds they are creating open dialogue and are happy to share their information with whoever requests those findings.
“Having discussions about these problems is the first step. If politicians and people in the community are talking about these things and advocating for a change, well that’s important. We are doing our best to pass along the information that we have learned about certain cities and we give our results and feedback and what we think will make the biggest impact on the city for reliable rides. That’s the biggest thing to come out of all of this, is that people deserve to have reliable transportation.”
Ruberto says their biggest goal would be to erase the “helpless that feeling of waiting in the cold for a ride, not knowing if one will come.”
He says, “It's something that I don’t think should exist in the world, and pretty much everything we do is working toward achieving that. I would drive all the time when we were looking to get this company going. I was driving people from North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Saskatchewan and you noticed a pattern, all of these smaller communities would have the same problems; really long waits, difficult to get rides, pretty expensive as well, people just didn’t have reliable transportation.”
The campaign to get ride-sharing services in North Bay took on a life of its own.
Ruberto says, “I remember there was a group on Facebook that started in North Bay to bring us there and it was pretty cool that the whole community got involved and got behind making this happen and addressing a problem that North Bay had. Someone contacted us and let us know about the Facebook group and we then got involved and next thing you know, we’re in North Bay and doing our best to get people home safe.”
He says the fact that people were reaching out and wanting to have this tool in their community really proved that his business was helping curb a problem.
“This showed me that you actually can take a real problem and throw your idea out there and with a lot of hard work and, maybe, with a little bit of luck, you can help solve that problem.”
Ruberto and his company are now looking to take the next step with an App that helps people solve a problem.
“We’re working on another platform and we’re testing it in Thunder Bay. Basically, there is going to be a lot of features on the rideshare website that will improve the customer experience and driver experience. On top of that, we have a beta out for grocery deliveries, alcohol deliveries from the LCBO, we’re trying to build Canada’s first Super App. Whether you need a ride, or groceries, or even a service like getting your lawn cut, these are some of the things we can see coming into the future and it's what we’re testing out right now.”