Uber has launched its UberX ride-sharing service in Waterloo Region, Hamilton, Guelph and London Thursday, according to a release from the company.

Last week an Uber spokesperson told CBC News it was planning on launching in Waterloo Region by the end of the year. That plan changed when, according to Uber Canada's general manager Ian Black, interest from social media came pouring in over the last week because of media coverage. 

"Interest has been building to a place where residents and drivers in the Waterloo Region wanted Uber to come and wanted more transportation options," said Black.

"We've been hearing from our riders that they're in need of more reliable, more affordable transportation. We've been hearing from drivers that they're looking for a way to earn more money in a flexible way. And also, just generally, I think [the] Kitchener-Waterloo region being such an innovation and tech community, it's a group of people who are naturally plugged into the next big thing."

Black said even before today's launch, tens of thousands of Waterloo Region residents had downloaded the app; some in anticipation of its local expansion and some who had used it other cities.

He added that several hundred drivers in the area have gone through a vehicle inspection, a background check, as well as a motor vehicle record check.

How UberX works

Customers in the southwestern Ontario cities will be able to order UberX cars using their smartphones starting at 2:00 p.m. today.

Uber offers three types of services:

  • Uber Taxi, which allows existing taxi drivers ways to find fares. 
  • Uber Black and Uber SUV, for limo and large vehicle drivers.
  • UberX, for private vehicles and drivers.

UberX is the cheapest option for users of the app, because UberX drivers use their own cars to drive passengers and aren't affiliated with taxi companies.

The app, available on iOS and Android, and accessible on BlackBerry through the mobile site, allows users to order rides and see the driver coming by following on a real-time map in the app that uses the smartphone's GPS to determine the rider's location and find the nearest available driver. It then lets the user pay through their smartphone, meaning no physical money or credit card information changes hands in the vehicle. 

The company claims it will create over 2,400 jobs for drivers in southwestern Ontario over the next year.

'Grab the popcorn'

Uber has come under fire in other communities for everything from concerns over how drivers and their vehicles are vetted to failing to collect HST.

Uber was exiled from Vancouver in 2012 because of requirements by the BC Passenger Transportation Branch. Recently, 36 UberX drivers in Toronto were charged with operating unlicensed transportation services and Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis warned passengers could face fines of up to $20,000

Regional councillor Sean Strickland, who has been a proponent of the service, said staff will now review bylaws to determine whether the company is in contravention of the laws.

Black said Uber is prepared to work with the Region, repeatedly emphasizing a recent decision by an Ontario judge that came out in Uber's favour. 

The city of Toronto sought a permanent injunction against the company's operations, arguing that Uber is a taxi company and must abide by the city's regulations. But Judge Sean Dunphy dismissed the application, saying there is "no evidence" the company is operating as a taxi broker.

"The Ontario courtroom...clearly points that ride-sharing is a new model that is outside the regulations, but certainly completely legal," said Black.

"For those regions that do want to update their regulations, I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from the hundreds of cities around the world where ride-sharing already exists. And many of those jurisdictions, including 50 in the U.S., have created new regulations for ride-sharing."

Regional staff have expressed concerns over the safety of the vehicles used for the ride-sharing service, and others, like Coun. Tom Galloway had different reactions:

Uber is currently available in 58 countries around the world and according to company's website, it is operating in Burlington, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, London, Halifax, Edmonton and Toronto.

with files from Canadian Press