Lyft taking a drive outside U.S. and into Toronto
Ride-hailing company Lyft, Uber’s main rival, will soon offer lifts to residents in Toronto in its first foray outside the U.S.
“We’ve been a business for five years and have been focused entirely on the United States, so we were very deliberate when making a decision to launch in Toronto as our first international market,” John Zimmer, Lyft’s president and co-founder, told Torstar News Service in an exclusive interview.
“We see it as a world-class city. It will likely become one of our top five markets overall. We expect that to happen and we see it as a city that really shares the values that we have at Lyft — focusing on people taking care of people, treating people well, treating people with mutual respect and promoting both inclusion and diversity.
“It’s a big decision. It’s a big moment for us, and we’re excited to be coming to Toronto.”
Preparing to go head-to-head with Uber, Lyft is signing up local drivers — including some who will respond to smartphone hails via both companies — and set up a local “hub” offering expertise to those who want to use their personal cars to make money.
Lyft plans to launch next month in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton with five options: regular vehicles for up to four passengers; the Plus service, with vehicles that can carry up to six people; Premier, offering high-end cars; Lux, with luxury black cars “piloted by a top driver”; and an SUV version of Lux.
The company is not yet ready to announce passenger rates or driver fees.
Uber remains America’s ridehail king but has been rocked by scandals and lawsuits that triggered a #Deleteuber movement, questions over driver treatment and the replacement of chief executive and founder Travis Kalanick.
Asked how Lyft will compete, Zimmer says 5,000 Torontonians downloaded the app this year with no service available. And, while he won’t say the word “Uber,” he has no hesitation in positioning his company as a more ethical option to “our competitor.”
“It’s important to give people a choice .... In order to provide the best hospitality to the end customer, you need to take best care of the drivers, and that’s something we’ve done for five years,” Zimmer said. “It will be reliable, it will be affordable, but it will also be an experience more focused on the hospitality service.”
He pointed to Lyft’s decision, long before Uber, to let users tip drivers within the app, and a program to help non-owners rent cars by the week so that they, too, can earn money as drivers.
Khalid Ahmed, 31, says he makes about $30 an hour, less expenses, as an occasional driver for Uber. He plans to switch to Lyft.
“It’s new, it’s fresh. It’s like waiting in line for the new iphone; I’ve got to have it,” he said. He also likes the company’s mission statement and driver incentives.