A new report calculates that millions of Toronto transit riders ditched the TTC for ride-sharing platforms Uber and Lyft, resulting in a revenue loss of at least $74 million in 2019.
According to the report, released by a group called RideFair Coalition, in 2019 an estimated 31.4 million TTC trips were lost to the two major ride-sharing platforms.
The shift to Uber and Lyft not only means a financial hit for the TTC, the report says, but also more private vehicles circulating on Toronto roads and more carbon emissions.
“It’s not just a revenue issue,” said JJ Fueser, a researcher with the coalition and one of the authors of the report.
“If we have large numbers of people moving off more sustainable, efficient modes of transportation into individual cars, it’ll have impacts on congestion, air quality, road safety.”
The RideFair Coalition says it is a diverse group of individuals and organizations supporting “fair regulations” for ride-hailing. Its founding members include two Toronto taxi companies as well as the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113.
Fare evasion comparison
The group also compares the lost revenue to what fare evasion costs the TTC, an estimated $70.3 million in 2019.
In response to those losses, the TTC has deployed an aggressive ad campaign, undercover fare inspectors, and has some of the most expensive fare evasion fines in North America.
The coalition believes there should be an action plan addressing the losses due to ride-hailing apps.
“There was a huge outcry [about fare evasion losses] and it really spurred some action. We think this is an even bigger deal because it’s a structural issue. It’s a growing issue,” Fueser said.
The coalition says the matter will be even more urgent with the TTC facing massive budget shortfalls due to the pandemic, and as ride-hailing apps continue to grow in popularity.
Report ‘doesn’t jibe,’ Lyft says
Uber and Lyft both see themselves as cooperating with the TTC, rather than in competition with it.
Lyft’s general manager for its Ontario operations, Hannah Parish, says the coalition’s report “doesn’t jibe” with how people are using the platform. She says many Lyft passengers use the service in combination with the TTC.
“Pre-COVID, our number one destination was Union Station,” Parish said in an interview with CBC Toronto.
“We have actually been driving people directly to transit … since the beginning of when we launched in 2017.”
Parish noted that Lyft has a feature that allows customers to sync their ride-sharing trip with a public transit schedule and that the feature is popular in Toronto.
She adds that Lyft emphasizes city-building with a focus on people, not cars.
“It may sound strange for a ride-sharing company to say that but … we are a company that helps people move around their cities and helps people not own cars,” Parish said.
Ridership down due to severe weather, Presto cards
Uber disputes the coalition’s findings, pointing to a 2019 TTC report that found overall ridership was down during the year due to several factors including severe weather, decreased weekend ridership, increased subway closures, and higher adoption of Presto fare cards.
“Uber is committed to helping reduce individual car ownership and expanding transportation access, making cities much more livable,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.
While Uber has partnered with other public transit systems in cities such as Boston, Dallas and Rio de Janeiro, the RideFair report suggests that the company seeks to expand its business by pulling riders off public transit.
The report cites Uber’s 2019 initial public offering, which states: “we can continue to grow the number of trips taken with our ride sharing products and replace personal vehicle ownership and usage and public transportation one use case at a time.”
TTC ‘great value for money’
In a statement, a TTC spokeperson says the transit system offers a different and much more economical service than Uber or Lyft.
“TTC customers can travel the entire breadth of the City for a maximum price of $3.25 (single adult fare), which is great value for money,” the TTC’s Haley Waldman said.
Waldman adds that the TTC is continually working on improving the customer experience by expanding its network, as well as initiatives such as the addition of onboard Wi-Fi and USB charging.