UberHop welcomed in Liberty Village, but is it legal?

UberHop jumps in to the Toronto market by offering free rides to promote a shuttle service that one expert believes is illegal and may compete with the TTC.

Downtown shuttle service challenges TTC's legally protected transit monopoly, expert says

These three passengers piled in to an UberHop minivan, making the trip from Liberty Village to the Financial District in about 15 minutes. (Annie Poulin/CBC)

UberHop jumped into the Toronto market this morning, giving dozens of customers a free ride into the city's downtown core to promote the start of a new business model that one expert believes is illegal.

For a $5 fare, UberHop lets commuters share a regular ride to and from the city's Financial District from four areas:

  • Liberty Village.
  • Fort York.
  • CityPlace.
  • The Distillery.

Uber is also soliciting suggestions for new routes. 

CBC News was in Liberty Village this morning as UberHop employees gave passengers a free ride into downtown to promote the new service. Next week, customers will be asked to pay the $5 fare for each trip.

This morning Uber employees offered free coffee and even approached passengers as they stood at a TTC bus stop. Dozens of passengers took them up on the offer, piling in to UberHop's fleet of SUVs and minivans.

The TTC's 504 King streetcar, which serves Liberty Village, is notoriously crammed during rush hour, a situation that forces many residents to seek a more comfortable way to get to and from downtown.

'There's a lot of demand for it'

Liberty Village resident Angela Holtby, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning the new service will fill a need.

"I think there's a lot of demand for it," she said. "If it's a situation of paying $3.25 to get on a crowded 504 streetcar or paying an extra $1.75 for UberHop service, I think the UberHop service is going to be preferable."

Preferable, but maybe not legal.

A group of UberHop employees met with passengers in Liberty Village this morning. Today rides were free but next week passengers will pay $5 to ride into downtown. (Annie Poulin/CBC)

UberHop is the latest service from Uber, the company that has famously thrown the city's taxi industry into turmoil.

Sunil Johal, a policy director with the public policy think tank the Mowat Centre, spoke about UberHop on CBC's Metro Morning. 

"I think Uber's business model is 'Let's push the boundaries and let's see how many businesses we can disrupt,'" he said. "First it was taxis, then it was restaurant deliveries and now it's the transit space."

Uber has ignored the city's request to cease operations while licensing rules are updated. 

UberHop could also bump heads with city officials because the City of Toronto Act gives the TTC a monopoly on operating transit in the city. The TTC plans to take a look at the service, according to CEO Andy Byford.

Yesterday Mayor John Tory said it wouldn't be practical to try and stop Uber from operating, which Johal said only emboldens the company.

"The city hasn't moved forward with regulations in an expeditious way and Uber has continued to push the boundaries," said Johal. "There's nothing wrong with new services, but you need to have fair rules. There's no reason Toronto should be taking a year to two years to move forward with these rules."

Bob Kinnear, who heads the local branch of the Amalgamated Transit Workers, accused Tory of "wimping out" instead of enforcing the city's bylaws regarding Uber. 

"Uber is laughing at Tory all the way to the bank," said Kinnear. He also said adding more cars on the roads, isn't the best way to ease congestion in the city. 

"You think congestion is bad now? Just wait until Uber-whatever completely takes over our roads," he said. 


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