Lyft driv­ing into the GTA

Ex­pan­sion out­side U.S. is a big mo­ment, pres­i­dent says

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Toronto -

Ride-hail­ing com­pany Lyft, Uber’s main ri­val, will soon of­fer lifts to GTA res­i­dents 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, driver fees or de­tails of the Toronto of­fice.

The ex­pan­sion comes more than five years af­ter Uber barged into the Toronto mar­ket, up­end­ing the tra­di­tional cab in­dus­try. Its lob­by­ing ef­forts helped pro­duce, just over a year ago, coun­cil ap­proved reg­u­la­tions le­gal­iz­ing app-based “pri­vate trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies” along­side taxis.

Uber has be­come part of Toronto’s trans­porta­tion scene, with al­most 50,000 driv­ers — many part-time — and new ser­vices in­clud­ing food de­liv­ery.

Uber re­mains Amer­ica’s ride­hail king, and quickly ex­panded to other coun­tries, 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.

Lyft, which re­tired fuzzy pink mous­taches in driv­ers’ grilles in favour of glow­ing “Amp” dash­board signs, has mostly avoided such head­lines.

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.

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