The ride-sharing service Lyft, one of Uber's fiercest competitors, will expand to Toronto by year's end, it was announced today.
Lyft, based in San Francisco and founded in 2012, claims to be the fastest-growing on-demand transportation service in the United States. Its move into the Toronto market will be its first outside the U.S., where it operates in 300 cities.
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"When we thought about launching internationally, Toronto was a no-brainer for us," Tim Houghton, general manager for Lyft Canada, said in an interview with Metro Morning.
According to Houghton, more than 50,000 people in Toronto have already downloaded the Lyft app to their smartphones, an indicator, he says, that ridesharing enthusiasts are looking for alternative options to taxis and Uber.
As part of its Toronto pitch, Lyft says, "Wherever we are, we know it matters how you get there, so we've got our tuques on.
"From brunch in Bloordale and belly laughs on Mercer Street to polishing off some late-night poutine at your favourite burger joint out in Woodbridge, we know Toronto is the place to be," the company says on its website.
Lyft operates much like its competitor Uber. Riders download an app to their smartphone, where they're able to request a ride at specific pickup and dropoff locations.
The app also provides an estimate of the ride's cost and sends a driver to the customer in minutes. Payment, including tips, are also managed through the app. At the end of the trip, riders have the option to rate their drivers.
Rides starting in mid-December
Toronto issued a business licence to Lyft on Monday morning, which makes the company the fifth private transportation company licensed in the city.
Lyft drivers will be available to give rides as of mid-December, according to Houghton, with more registered cars coming in the early new year.
While Lyft is finalizing prices for its service, Houghton added that riders should expect pricing comparable to other alternatives.
Lyft has reportedly been considering an international expansion for some time, and Uber, its primary competitor, says it welcomes the competition.
"More options can help reduce congestion and pollution as consumers increasingly make the switch from driving their own car to using shared mobility services," Uber said in an emailed statement.
The company has faced numerous controversies over the years, including how its drivers are treated.
Like Uber, Lyft's drivers are considered independent contractors and not employees, which may result in similar problems to Uber.
Houghton insisted, however, that Lyft has tried to avoid some of the problems Uber drivers have expressed.
"We have plenty of drivers who make a decent living working full-time on the platform," he said. "We treat drivers better, and passengers have a different experience as a result."
Lyft may snarl traffic, Beck Taxi says
Kristine Hubbard, operations managers for Beck Taxi Limited, a company that has waged a public battle with Uber in Toronto, said the appearance of another ride-sharing service contradicts the city's plans to reduce traffic congestion.
"We're trying to get cars off of our main arteries and prioritize mass transit. Here we are with Uber that has 30,000 cars lined up … Now we're going to potentially introduce that many more?" she told CBC Toronto.
Hubbard also pointed that when city council introduced a series of regulations for Uber while allowing it to operate legally, Municipal Licensing and Standards committed to producing a report examining how Uber drivers may be changing traffic patterns on city streets. That report was due out nearly four months ago, Hubbard said.
"While we are doing things like the King Street pilot, finding ways to try keep our city moving, why would we clog it up further with vehicles just cruising around looking for fares? It such a contradiction I'm stunned," she said of the city's decision to give Lyft a licence.
However, Tracey Cook, executive director of Toronto's municipal licensing and standards department, said she believes services like Lyft could actually help with reducing traffic.
"The city has many priorities and one of those is ensuring that the public has access to safe, regulated transportation services," Cook said in a statement to CBC Toronto. "People having a variety of transportation options is a component of reducing congestion on our streets."