Toronto’s Uber pilot project could drive up prices and reduce air quality

Uber has warned of higher prices and longer wait times following Toronto’s decision to freeze new licences for ridesharing firms as part of broader pilot project aimed at addressing air quality issues.

“Our fares would likely increase and it would take longer for Uber cars to come on board,” Kevin McGowan, Uber Canada’s general manager, said. “That could potentially translate into longer waiting times, more frustration for passengers and a more challenging market for drivers.”

The Uber statement is in response to a similar warning from the taxi industry, which warns that the pilot project could lower air quality.

Air pollution has been a top concern for the Liberal government of Canada, as it has increasingly been a problem abroad in China, the US and throughout the world. Canada also has a seat on the UN committee on the sale of toxic substances, which has been pushing for regulation of emissions from diesel and petrol cars in the run up to the Paris climate change talks.

Joanna Sacks, a Toronto councillor with the city’s Liberal party who voted against the pilot project, argued that the decision to freeze the licences would put people at risk.

“This is bad economics,” Sacks said. “[The] government should immediately reverse the decision to freeze routes and not make the economics worse for residents.”

Uber, which uses data collected from customers to calculate its prices, has said that the issue with their pricing for TTC vehicles, which is used by most taxi drivers in Toronto, is that they simply don’t have enough drivers to get around.

McGowan said that they were eager to change that, but the pilot project was being put on hold because of the public outcry.

“We’ve built a strong reputation on reliable ridesharing that happens quickly in smaller cities in Canada and in the US,” he said. “As the technology changes, we want to be a partner with transit authorities across the country to improve connections in the largest cities.”

The issue of prices and access is nothing new. In September the campaign group One Ride, which promotes accessibility in Toronto, raised concerns about the discounts offered by Uber. The cost of travelling between Toronto’s subway stations is generally calculated using simple zone ranges, rather than trampling on most customers and setting them off on an expensive or inconvenient journey around the city.

The company has argued that the service is already the most affordable in Toronto. The mayor, John Tory, has backed Uber on that point, and made clear to the press that he would push to make it the most accessible. “I’m a big fan of Uber. They work better than public transit,” Tory said in September.

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