Riide app used by Saskatoon taxis could leave customers feeling 'duped

Saskatoon’s largest taxi companies are using an app that looks similar to Uber and Lyft, even as those rivals can’t legally operate in the city.

Saskatoon’s largest taxi companies are using an app that looks similar to Uber and Lyft, even as those rivals can’t legally operate in the city.

While United Cabs and Comfort Cab have made a “shrewd business move,” the companies also risk leaving customers feeling “duped” once they realize it’s ultimately a taxi picking them up, says a local marketing expert.

“It’s like buying an Apple and you find out underneath it’s just a Samsung,” said David Williams, an associate professor specializing in marketing at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business.

Features similar to ride-sharing apps

United Cabs and Comfort Cab, which have announced plans to merge into one company, recently began using the features of the U.K.-based Riide app.

While billed as a “taxi booking app,” it has features reminiscent of transportation network companys (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, including booking a ride via an app, real-time arrival updates and the rating of drivers.

Carlo Triolo, the general manager of Riide Holdings Inc. and a board member of the Saskatchewan Taxi Cab Association, recently described the new Riide offshoot in Martensville, Sask., as both a “vehicle for hire service” and a “hybrid” between a taxi company and a TNC.  

Triolo even checked off the boxes for both “Taxi” and “Transportation Network Company” when applying in Martensville under the community’s new “Vehicle For Hire Bylaw.”   

Taking it for test Riide 

But what does Riide actually look like in Saskatoon?

CBC News tested the Riide service twice in Saskatoon this week. The app featured a map showing several Riide-branded cars as available.

It also provided updates on the car’s arrival time, identified the “SK Riide” drivers by their first names and sent a notification saying “Your Riide is about to Arrive!”

CBC News received these notifications when using the Riide app this week.(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

In both cases, it was a taxi cab that showed up: a yellow United Cabs for the first ride, a white Comfort Cab van for the second.The second ride was metered like a standard cab ride, with a starting rate of $3.75.

Triolo said via email that Riide is neither a TNC nor a ride-hailing service but rather a brand and app associated with taxi franchises. 

Triolo, in his Martensville application, also emphasized Riide features that distinguish it from TNCs, such as the willingness to accept cash payments.

‘Everybody wants Uber and Lyft’

“The Taxi Bylaw does not prohibit a taxi company from utilizing an app to facilitate taxi trip bookings. It’s akin to taxi companies using a website or telephone number to book trips,” said Jo-Anne Richter, the acting director of the city’s community standards division, via email. 

“Just because TNCs will be required to dispatch through an app does not mean that taxis will be prohibited from dispatching through an app.”

Williams at the Edwards School of BusinessIn said the taxi companies aren’t doing anything illegal or unethical by using an app similar to TNCs, but they risk falling short in consumers’ eyes due to their standing as the “defensive” incumbent service and built-up anticipation for TNCs. 

“Everybody wants Uber and Lyft to come because….it’s the sexy new thing,” he said. 

“If you used Riide and an Uber car came, you’d be like ‘Yay! Good to go. I’m brilliant.’ The fact that you get a cab come up, you’re thinking, ‘Oh I’m duped.’ “

The City of Saskatoon is drafting a bylaw that would allow TNCs to operate but is waiting for provincial regulations to kick in.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark fields a question on Twitter from a resident asking about the status of ride-sharing services in the city.(Twitter)

The Saskatchewan government said Thursday it expects those regulations to be tabled in two weeks.

The launch of Riide in Saskatoon comes after months of back and forth at city hall during which taxi companies lobbied hard to make sure TNCs would be held to many of the same standards as taxis, including the same $3.75 starting rate.

Uber Canada declined to comment for this article. CBC News also reached out to Lyft.