Ride-hailing service Lyft expands outside U.S. for 1st time to take on Uber in Canada

Uber rival Lyft launches today in Toronto. The two companies will begin a battle not just for customers, but also for drivers, as many plan to double dip.

Lyft vs Uber: 2 ride-hailing services start their Canadian battle on Toronto streets

Uber driver Jordan Samuels has now signed up to drive for Lyft as well, hoping she will be able to pick up more rides during slow times. (CBC/Chris Dunseith)

Starting today, Torontonians will have another option to get around the city. Lyft has launched outside the U.S. for the first time, putting pressure on Uber for a share of the ride-hailing market.

Other Canadian cities are in Lyft's sight as the company, Uber's main rival in the U.S., competes with it for both customers and drivers. 

Jordan Samuels is one of thousands who have signed up to drive for Lyft in Toronto. She has been driving with Uber for the past couple of years and says the day shift can be slow.

"If I can have them both on at the same time — and whichever one comes first, I am happy to take that ride," she said.

Drivers are private contractors and can work for both companies.

Samuels hopes the competition will work in her favour. "Now that there is going to be both Uber and Lyft, they can compete against each other to keep and to make us work on their platform during prime time."

Lyft saw a big increase in users when hundreds of thousands deleted their Uber app (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

In a statement from Uber about the launch of Lyft, the company says "it's proud to have paved the way for ride-sharing in Canada and we welcome competition that encourages the use of more transportation alternatives."

Uber's reputation takes a hit

Uber's reputation has taken a hit over the past year, with stories about a toxic corporate culture, sexual harassment and, more recently, a system hack that affected millions of people.

In the wake of a U.S. federal investigation into efforts to mislead local government regulators and the firing of 20 employees in the harassment probe, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned in June. 

"People have their own reservations with Uber," says Samuels. "Personally I still love Uber. I am never going to give it away — but I think people like options."

Ela Veresiu, an assistant professor of marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business, says Lyft is presenting itself as an Uber alternative.

Lyft bills itself as inclusive

While Uber is known for its aggressive approach, fighting taxi unions and governments that want to regulate it and rebuking drivers who complain they can't make a living, San Francisco-based Lyft is cultivating a different image.

"It's already built its brand in the U.S. in opposition to the negative brand images that are circulating and have been throughout popular culture about Uber," Veresiu says.

Marketing expert Ela Veresiu says Lyft is presenting itself as an Uber alternative

She says it's working to position itself as an inclusive and diverse company, "that is very empathetic and that really wants to create an atmosphere and a space of mutual respect between riders and drivers."

That's the marketing. But on the ground the experience for riders isn't really that different, according to Harry Campbell. He has been driving for Uber and Lyft in California for years and runs the blog therideshareguy.com.

Most U.S. drivers work for both

In fact, Campbell says in most U.S. cities, where both services compete, about two-thirds of drivers work on both platforms.

"At the core, Uber and Lyft are very similar services. You call a ride through a phone app and a driver picks you up and takes you to your destination, at which point you can leave a rating and a tip."

For consumers, having both ride-hailing apps gives riders the option to shop around during busy times, when prices can surge.

Lyft currently operates in 300 U.S. cities and does about one million rides a day. Uber is a global company, in more than 600 cities worldwide and observers estimate it averages more than five million rides a day.

This is the first time Lyft is challenging the company outside the U.S.

"I think Uber is definitely nervous right now," Campbell says. Until now being available around the world is what set Uber apart.

"That was one of the things you could always point to as being a main differentiator."

Now it isn't the only one in the global game. 

About the Author

Renée Filippone

National Reporter

Renée is a national reporter with CBC News based in Vancouver. She has spent a decade with the organization in a number of roles, including senior business reporter, weekend news anchor, television and radio reporter, associate producer, program director and others.