UberHop, new downtown shuttle service, launches this week

Uber has shaken up Toronto's taxi landscape, but now the ride-hailing service appears to be setting its sights on public transit.

Uber Canada says its new pilot project is trying to reduce traffic congestion

UberHop, a new service being rolled out by the ride-hailing company this week, aims to let commuters split SUV rides between downtown neighbourhoods and the financial district. (John Rieti/CBC)

Uber has shaken up Toronto's taxi landscape, but now the ride-hailing service appears to be setting its sights on public transit.

UberHop launches in Toronto on Tuesday. The service lets commuters share an SUV-ride to and from the financial district from four areas: Liberty Village, Fort York, CityPlace and the Distillery. Uber is also soliciting suggestions for new routes.

This week, Uber is offering the service for free. After that, commuters will pay $5 per trip.

Right now my main focus is on moving 1.8 million people a day on the TTC — I can't see Uber or anyone else getting anywhere near that.- Andy Byford, TTC CEO

"With UberHOP, we hope that Torontonians will rely more on ridesharing and less on their personal vehicles to help reduce traffic congestion in our city," Uber said on its website.

However, many of the people targeted by the new service likely commute by transit like the busy 504 King streetcar line, which transports some 60,000 people a day.

So is the TTC worried about Uber courting its customers? Not really.

TTC CEO Andy Byford said he received an email this morning asking him to sign up for the service, which he joked was "kind of ironic."

"Right now my main focus is on moving 1.8 million people a day on the TTC — I can't see Uber or anyone else getting anywhere near that," Byford said.

Still, Byford said the TTC would be taking a look at the service as there are strict rules when it comes to who can and can't operate public transit here. The TTC also previously announced that it plans to run the new, larger streetcars on the King route to make the trip better for commuters.

John Tory, speaking alongside Premier Kathleen Wynne at Queen's Park on Monday, said it's "not practical" to shut Uber down, even as the company keeps expanding despite city council's request for it to stop operating while the city modernizes its bylaws.

"What we see is a rapidly changing landscape," he said of the ground transportation industry in the city.

"The bottom line is that people have certainly said to me - recognizing that we're all very sympathetic to the plight of taxi drivers who are in an industry that is changing very rapidly because of this technology - that these are things that are good for people," Tory said. "It gives them choice and choice is always good for people."

Bus service previously pitched to Liberty Village residents

Tory also touted his SmartTrack plan as something that will provide some relief to the Liberty Village area. For those who live in the new west end neighbourhood, this isn't the first time someone has pitched an alternative to the streetcar.

In September of 2014, Taylor Scollon and a colleague launched Line 6, which was essentially a bus service from Liberty Village to the downtown core. But after a brief trial, Scollon and his team shut the project down, citing concerns about violating the city's regulations. 

Uber Canada, meanwhile, also launched a carpooling service (UberPool) during this summer's Pan Am Games. The company's UberX service, which allows anyone to work as a cab driver, has drawn the ire of Toronto taxi owners and drivers, who staged a citywide protest against it last week. 


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