Ride-hailing service Lyft is coming to Toronto next month in its first expansion outside the United States, giving those in Canada's largest city a new commuting option.
"Toronto is actually a no-brainer for us when we decided to launch internationally,'' said Tim Houghton, general manager for Lyft in Toronto.
Canada's largest city is the fourth-biggest in North America.
"We think Lyft's values align really well with Toronto's and we know there's demand,'' he said in an interview.
Houghton said more than 50,000 people in Toronto have downloaded the Lyft app this year even though the service has not been available. Several thousand drivers indicated an interest through Lyft's U.S. website before recruiting started Monday, he added.
The service will actually expand outside the city's boundaries, operating between Hamilton and Oshawa, Ont., and as far north as Newmarket, Ont. LyftLine, which allows passengers heading to the same destination to share a ride for a discount, will be added at a later time.
Lyft wouldn't say when the service would be available in the city, but said in a blog posting that it will be "around to help ring in the holidays.'' The company said it had not yet determined pricing but added, "we'll pretty quickly get to parity on ... pricing with Uber.''
"We see an opportunity for ourselves in providing a better experience for everyone involved,'' said Houghton, in a swipe at its largest rival.
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Uber is the king of ride-hailing services, but has been embroiled in a number of controversies including allegations that the San Francisco-based company has a culture of sexism and sexual harassment and a history of poor treatment of drivers.
Uber arrived in Canada several years ago and has fought an uphill regulatory battle ever since, leaving it banned or pushed out of some Canadian cities as the taxi cab industry dug in its heels against new competition from unlicensed platforms.
Uber also has been embroiled in a fight in Quebec over the province's rules for ride-hailing services.
In September, the province announced it would renew a pilot project agreement for one more year, but added new provisions that included 35 hours of mandatory training, police background checks and a vehicle inspection every year.
Uber has argued the 35-hour provision hurts the firm's model of employing part-time and casual workers, who couldn't even try the service without the training.
Houghton wouldn't say if Lyft will expand to other Canadian cities or if Quebec's provisions would prompt it to avoid the province.
"Obviously there are a lot of other great cities in Canada that we will think about but for the moment we're just focused on making this a successful launch.''
Competition springing up
Uber's struggles appear to have opened the door to more competition.
In addition to Lyft, another ride-hailing service called Facedrive launched last week in Toronto.
Uber Canada said in a statement Monday it welcomes the competition.
But Kristine Hubbard, operations manager of Beck Taxi, said adding thousands of cars to Toronto's congested streets is the last thing the city needs and only discourages transit ridership. Her comments came the same day as the launch of a pilot program that shut down a major downtown thoroughfare to vehicles to prioritize public transit.
"My biggest problem is how absurd it is that we're taking big steps like the King Street shutdown, basically in order to encourage people onto mass transit, while we're doing something that infers otherwise,'' she said in an interview.
Hubbard said municipal rules that aren't properly enforced provided an open invitation for Lyft.
The city is four months late in reporting back on the first year of new ride-hailing rules introduced by Toronto city council.
But Hubbard doesn't see taxi drivers re-engaging in protests as they did with the arrival of Uber.
"I think that ship has sailed,'' she said.
"But they will never forget.''
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