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.
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 industry dug in its heels against new competition from unlicensed platforms.
With Toronto’s regulatory framework in place, it was only a matter of time before Lyft entered Toronto, said Sunil Johal, policy director at the Mowat Centre, School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.
“They are playing it perfectly,” he said in an interview.
“Let Uber take all the hard lumps from regulators and all the bad press from the taxi industry and then come in and essentially act like the good guy and scoop up those customers who maybe weren’t so happy with the Uber experience.”
He said Lyft has a better corporate reputation than Uber, but otherwise offer similar services.
“What they bring to the table is they’re not Uber and for a lot of people that might be enough given Uber’s significant reputational challenges across a number of issues in the past couple of years.”
Uber has also 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.
Houghton wouldn’t say if Lyft will expand to other Canadian cities or if Quebec’s provisions would prompt it to avoid the province.
Uber’s struggles appear to have opened the door to more competition.
In addition to Lyft, another ride-hailing service called Facedrive Inc. launched last week in Toronto.
Company president Irfan Khan says the arrival of Lyft is welcome news because it will add a second app that drivers can service on top of Uber.
Uber Canada said in a statement Monday it also 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 do something that infers otherwise,” she said in an interview.
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.”