The first time I used UberPOOL, I was heading to Santa Monica Beach last year with a friend, leaving from downtown LA. We knew it'd be way too expensive in rush hour traffic to use Uber to cross the city, so we clicked a new button that said "UberPOOL." We wound up sharing our ride to the beach with two guys — one hilarious guy visiting from Brazil, who made us laugh the whole way down, and his quiet but polite friend. Not only did sharing our ride make getting stuck in traffic for an hour more interesting, but it wound up costing half as much than had we flown solo with UberX.
Now Torontonians are getting UberPOOL, which is basically a carpooling service that pairs riders with other passengers going similar routes. And while I'm excited to be able to travel around the city for cheap next time I'm in town, it's arriving amidst plenty of controversy.
But first of all, there are plenty of reasons Torontonians will likely choose this new ride-sharing option, which Uber test drove during the Pan Am Games this summer for two weeks. For one, it's cheap: Anyone who clicks the UberPOOL option will get their fare automatically reduced by 30 per cent of the cost of the same ride in an UberX, even if nobody else winds up jumping in.
Secondly, it's an environmentally friendlier form of commuting: "Our vision for UberPOOL is simple," Uber explains in a statement. "We want to reduce the number of cars on the road, while providing Torontonians with transportation that’s more affordable than ever. When 2 people share their ride, that’s one less car on the road and a cheaper fare for both riders."
Since its 2014 launch in San Francisco, UberPOOL has become popular in major cities around the globe, including Paris, New York City and LA. But Toronto's taxi drivers have proved to be incredibly determined rivals of Uber, lobbying city council to level the playing field (as Uber is unregulated and is taking business away from taxi drivers). While city council voted in September to make moves to regulate Uber, so far nothing's changed. And Uber Canada’s general manager, Ian Black, plans to keep it that way:
“I think Uber has a responsibility to the 400,000 riders who rely on us for transportation as well as the 16,000 drivers who rely on us for their income, so Uber intends to continue operating in the city of Toronto,” Black said in September in The Star.
The Toronto Taxi Alliance expressed its frustration with the city for not taking steps to regulate Uber: “Uber’s still here. The mayor has declared they’re illegal and said that they are outside of the law," Rita Smith, its executive director, told Global News. Frustrated cabbies even went on a hunger strike in December, posting up with sleeping bags outside city halls and brandishing signs that said things such as "Uber is illegal" and “Stop unlicensed ride sharing operations now."
But Toronto doesn't show any signs of stopping the use of Uber — I mean, who doesn't like cheap rides? Add UberPOOL to the mix, and you've got even more economical options.
Of course, UberPOOL's not for everyone. I once used it on my way to a time-sensitive appointment in LA and found myself waiting, anxiously and angrily, for my seriously late co-rider to get himself together and join us in the car. But for relaxed Saturday outings like my trip to the beach, it totally does the trick.
And I think it's safe to say that it's going to be around for a little while, at least — Premier Kathleen Wynne explained in a December meeting with Mayor John Tory that, while the province has a responsibility to keep people safe, regulating Uber is in the city's hands. She added: “This is technology that exists. It’s a reality."
Until/if the city makes a move to regulate Uber, it looks like Torontonians are gearing up to enjoy the cheap rides.
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