New Uber service targets Toronto rush-hour commuters
Service will ferry commuters from areas that are under served by transit.
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The ride-hailing service Uber is pushing ahead with a new commuting service known as UberHop, offering $5 flat-rate rides on weekdays during rush hour on four specific routes.
UberHop, which launched last Thursday in Seattle, begins in Toronto on Tuesday, where larger vehicles like SUVs and minivans will pick up to five passengers from the same spot on a fixed route, usually a side street.
“We have seen a huge interest in people needing simpler and lower-cost commutes,” said Ian Black, Uber Canada’s general manager. “There are many routes that aren’t served by transit. There are many use cases where they need to get somewhere relatively quickly.”
Unlike UberPool, which ran as a pilot project during the Pan Am Games last summer where a driver could pick up two different ride requests heading on a similar route, UberHop looks more like a small-scale transit service.
It will offer rides, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and between 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, between Liberty Village and the financial district, Fort York and the financial district, CityPlace and the financial district, and the Distillery District and the financial district.
“These four neighbourhoods are high-density areas, with large numbers of people going back and forth to the downtown core, with not many efficient transit options,” said Black.
“We are hoping to add new riders who are drivers currently, and see it as a better option than driving and parking.”
When users tap on the app, they will be given a meeting spot, such as a cul-de-sac or side street behind One King West hotel, with a departure time for the vehicle, usually within 5 to 10 minutes.
“We don’t want to disturb traffic, and we want it to be safe to get in and out of the vehicle,” Black said. “This is a new direction for us as a company. It’s a new user experience where people need to walk to the vehicle and walk from their drop-off location.”
But with the lure of lower fares, Black thinks people won’t be upset about walking a short distance.
Drivers, who will initially be paid a flat rate, will have a countdown clock, and if a passenger is late, the car will depart as scheduled.
The program will start with four routes and Uber will consider adding other ones depending on demand such as between Regent Park and downtown or parts of Scarborough and downtown, Black said.
He believes the UberHop model could be applied to many commuting routes and potentially even outside commuting hours.
For example, in the summer, if there’s a concert on at the Molson Amphitheatre, UberHop could bring concert-goers to and from the venue. “We could put four or five people in a car, rather than one person in a car,” he said.
The new service comes as taxi drivers are becoming more frustrated and vocal with Toronto city hall’s inability to halt Uber’s operations while bureaucrats work on drawing up new rules and regulations.
Taxi drivers, who created traffic nightmares last week with a widespread protest, are complaining that they play by the rules with expensive licences and inspections, while ordinary people who use their personal vehicles to ferry passengers around for Uber are taking away business.
Taxi drivers have been asking the police and politicians to crack down on Uber drivers.
But Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders, who met with representatives for taxi drivers last Friday, has argued that his officers are essentially handcuffed in their ability to charge UberX drivers.
Saunders said until the courts rule on outstanding charges faced by eight UberX drivers, Toronto police would stop charging UberX drivers.
For Uber, the city’s traffic congestion and crowded TTC buses and streetcars is a chance to court frustrated commuters.
The influx of new condo dwellers in neighbourhoods like Liberty Village has put pressure on existing transit service, especially the King St. streetcar.
Last year, an attempt to introduce a private bus service known as the Liberty Village Express, where passengers would pay $25 a week for a ride downtown, failed after a brief run.
Questions arose about the legality of such a service, given that under the City of Toronto Act, the Toronto Transit Commission has a legal monopoly on transit.
Similarly, an effort in 2006 to provide direct bus service from condo towers along Lake Shore Blvd. in Etobicoke to Union Station, for about $200 a month, never got off the ground.
The city prohibits corporations from charging a direct fee, or fare, for transportation, but has exceptions including tour or charter buses as well as free shuttle services, which many condo buildings offer.
Uber does not see UberHop as a bus service, saying it is simply putting more riders in UberX vehicles.
“Those rules apply to larger vehicles. This is considered the same as a limousine trip or UberX trip,” Black said. “It’s an opportunity to take existing Uber rides and give them high occupancy.”
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