Ti­mothy Houghton, the Toronto head of Lyft, says they’re launch­ing a big­ger, bet­ter Uber—with­out all the bag­gage

Toronto Life - - Contents - By court­ney shea

Lyft has been op­er­at­ing in the U.S. for five years. Toronto is your first in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. Why now and why here? Toronto is a no-brainer for us. It’s one of the largest cities in North Amer­ica, and we know there’s de­mand: more than 50,000 peo­ple down­loaded the app here be­fore we even launched.

Uber fought long and hard to come to an agree­ment with the city’s li­cens­ing reg­u­la­tors. Now Lyft comes in and reaps the ben­e­fits. Was that by de­sign? We have ob­vi­ously fol­lowed what has gone on here. The city has done a great job of cre­at­ing a clear frame­work for ride-shar­ing com­pa­nies.

Why should Uber’s cus­tomers and driv­ers switch to Lyft? In terms of avail­abil­ity and prices, the ser­vices are sim­i­lar. Driver earn­ings are also com­pa­ra­ble. But we treat peo­ple bet­ter. For driv­ers, we were the first ride-share com­pany to in­tro­duce tip­ping. We also cre­ated a driver sup­port cen­tre in Yorkville, which is like an Ap­ple Store where driv­ers can come and get help with their prob­lems.

Any other dif­fer­ences? We have Lyft Amp, which is a de­vice that lights up on the driver’s dash­board and changes colours to match an icon on the pas­sen­ger’s phone. That makes it easy to find your ride even when there is more than one Lyft driver at a pickup.

How many of your driv­ers are fe­male? In some U.S. cities, it’s as high as 40 per cent. I think fe­male driv­ers grav­i­tate to­ward Lyft. Di­ver­sity over­all is fun­da­men­tal to us as a com­pany. So is safety. Lyft pas­sen­gers can share their route, ETA and car’s li­cence num­ber be­fore get­ting in. Ev­ery one-star ride is eval­u­ated by cus­tomer sup­port. We also ap­ply a strin­gent po­lice back­ground check, whereas—I can’t re­ally speak for the com­pe­ti­tion.

I no­tice that you are dis­in­clined to ref­er­ence Uber by name. Is that a pol­icy? There is an ef­fort. We want to fo­cus on our brand rather than be­ing known for op­pos­ing one.

So if I said “ride­shar­ing com­pany that rhymes with schmu­ber,” you’d say… The com­pe­ti­tion.

Can you at least ac­knowl­edge that “the com­pe­ti­tion” has paved the way? Lyft was founded with the mis­sion of im­prov­ing peo­ple’s lives with the world’s best trans­porta­tion, and that’s what we’ve fo­cused on since day—

Haha, okay. Kris­tine Hub­bard, the head of Beck Taxi, has said that a sec­ond ride­share pro­gram will worsen grid­lock in an al­ready chock­ablock city. How do you re­spond? I dis­agree. Ride-shar­ing takes cars off the road and ul­ti­mately im­proves traf­fic. We have a car­pool­ing op­tion called Lyft Line, which ac­counts for 30 per cent of our busi­ness in some cities.

How is the com­pany do­ing fi­nan­cially? In 2016, we had al­most $1 bil­lion in rev­enue, and our 2017 num­bers are ex­pected to be dou­ble that.

You moved from Cal­i­for­nia to Toronto last fall. What made you the right guy for the job? I have a good track record. I helped build our team in L.A. into one of the largest mar­kets, with tens of thou­sands of driv­ers. Be­fore Lyft I was in

con­sumer prod­ucts at Dis­ney.

What have you learned about liv­ing here? I’ve been to­tally blown away by the city. There’s so much go­ing on. And at the rec­om­men­da­tion of ba­si­cally ev­ery­one, my wife and I bought Canada Goose jack­ets. I’m from New York orig­i­nally, so I’m ex­cited to be back in a truly global, di­verse en­vi­ron­ment. And I love how even on a Tues­day night, peo­ple are out for din­ner and hav­ing a great time.

What are your favourite haunts? The Black Hoof and Rhum Cor­ner. In my neigh­bour­hood, Les­lieville, I like the Real Jerk.

What else do you like to do here? My wife and I have a seven-month-old, so you’ll have to let me get back to you on that one.

Have you crossed paths with the head of Uber Toronto? I have not. I guess if I did, I would prob­a­bly start with hello.

This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity.

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