Ride-hailing pioneer Lyft has made its first move outside the U.S. with service in Toronto, and it approaches B.C. with an effort to cool the political battle over the taxi monopoly that has carried on past the spring election.
The NDP minority government has backed away from its election promise to introduce ride-hailing service by the end of 2017, prompting opposition MLAs to label Transportation Minister Claire Trevena the “minister of taxis” for stalling an update of B.C.’s regulations.
Uber has made most of the headlines in Metro Vancouver, signing up drivers and sparking accusations it wants to set prices below Passenger Transportation Board rates for the last big city in North America without ride-hailing services. Vancouver-based Flok and other startups are working around what amounts to a taxi monopoly with many complaints of poor service.
Chelsea Wilson, Lyft senior policy communications manager, visited B.C. last week to have a look at B.C.’s situation. In an interview with Black Press, she stressed the company’s strategy to extend the options available to city dwellers.
“We don’t see ourselves as competing with any existing industry,” Wilson said. “We view it as competing with personal car ownership. And we believe we complement and supplement the existing options of the city, whether that’s taxis or transit.”
While big cities can have a variety of traditional and smartphone-based options, Lyft has moved on since it started in 2012 to include smaller communities.
“We just moved in the States from launching city by city to turning on entire states,” Wilson said. “That means we have coverage in dense urban centres but also more rural areas, and it’s a service that operates very well in rural areas. It’s not a full-time job for most people. Eighty per cent of our drivers drive 15 hours a week or less.”
Like other services, Lyft is emphasizing its safety measures, including background checks for drivers and GPS tracking of cars so people can track the movements of friends and relatives using the service.