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Uber in Toronto

Toronto’s Alternative Transit Options

One of the main talking points for all of Toronto’s mayoral candidates during their election campaigns has been to propose solutions to combat the city’s growing transit issues. To put it bluntly, residents of the Greater Toronto Area have an exceedingly difficult time getting around, particularly travelling from uptown to downtown. Accelerated population growth, coupled with the disappearance of downtown parking lots to make way for condo developments, is having the twofold effect of adding more cars on the road, and more passengers on public transit, more than the current system can facilitate.

The solution getting kicked around a lot is to pump government money into the construction of a TTC “Relief Line”; an additional subway line that can take some of the strain off the Yonge-University-Spadina line, especially during peak hours. Such a deal would require funding in the tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars, and years of construction to complete. Frankly, residents of the city can’t wait several years for a transit line that may or may not divert some traffic for travellers heading downtown. But thankfully, several transit alternatives have appeared that can help fill the void between now, and the moment a more long-term solution is implemented.

Line-6 TransitBlogTo published a piece recently on the plight of commuters of the 504 King West Streetcar, many of whom complain about over-packed streetcars and long wait times. Brett Chang, 23, and Taylor Scollon, 24, saw a business opportunity, successfully crowdfunding a privately-run bus shuttle from Liberty Village to Union Station they named “Line Six Transit.” According to Scollon, the duo recognized that “Community development [in Liberty Village] has far outpaced public services [such as transit],” which propelled them to act. The King Charter bus that carries passengers includes free Wifi, and runs from East Liberty and Pirandello Street to Front Street and University Avenue four times a day between 7:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m., and a return trip runs three times a day between 7:20 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. According to the pair, interest for Line Six is growing, and as a result, plan to add evening buses to the Liberty line, and even more routes, including ones servicing the Junction, Beaches, Yonge and Eglinton, and Humber Bay.

There is a new generation of “rideshare” smartphone applications that are becoming all becoming all the rage in the GTA, with the city’s municipal government being accommodating regarding the operation of such services at a time when many municipalities are rejecting such services out of fear of disrupting the existing taxicab establishment. These apps all essentially perform the same functioning, allowing the average Joe with a car and spare time to become a “cab driver” (for lack of a better term), and pick up nearby passengers who summon you using the application. Drivers make some extra money, the tech company behind the app makes a cut per transaction, everybody’s happy. Josh Elliott of CTVNews.ca, provides a very good synopsis of how the most popular rideshare application, Uber, functions:

“Uber operates through a smartphone app or web browser, allowing users to request a ride and track its progress in real time. Both rider and driver can see each other’s picture and profile on the app which requires both parties to accept one another before any rides are arranged. The app then uses GPS to guide the driver to the rider, and on to the rider’s destination. Uber calculates the estimated fare ahead of time and transfers the money electronically, so no physical cash is exchanged and no one skips out on the fare.”

A few Toronto celebrities have been spotted as Uber drivers, like Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel and DJ Deadmau5, who has gone on to publicly endorse the service.

According to Vanessa Lu of the Toronto Star, Uber’s operations have not gone without controversy. The San Francisco-based company boasts ride-sharing operations in over 200 cities internationally, but works adamantly to combat the “taxicab company” image, touting itself as a technology company that has simply created an app that connects drivers with riders, an argument that has helped them sidestep local government rules for licensing. Ottawa was quick to reject Uber, with officials arguing that it is an unregulated taxi service operating without proper security measures or insurance, while professional taxi drivers say it’s stealing their business with an unsafe service at a cut-rate price, according to Elliott.

Eddy Yao, CEO of Toronto startup Gata Labs, argues that taxi companies don’t have the time, ability or cash to develop their own smartphone apps to summon a car instead of the traditional means of phoning for a cab or just flagging one down on the street. His company seeks to address that party, with the development of a free app available on iOS and Android, which allows any cab driver with any cab company, to have a smartphone summoning functionality for a monthly fee ranging from $75 to $100. In his interview with Lu, Yao stated that “Many know about Uber. They understand that it is only a matter of time when someone like Uber moves into that market,” adding Gata will permit only one taxi company per city but is close to signing deals in both Toronto and Montreal, where Uber operates. The launch of Gata coincides the announcement that the already popular taxi hailing application, Hailo, is shutting down all North American operations, citing increased competition (read Darrell Etherington’s full article here).