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The concept is simple: Line 6 isn’t a transit company, but a platform that people can use to propose, crowdfund and book passage on putative new routes. If there’s sufficient interest in a route, the company will arrange for transportation with partners in the coach business. (Thinstock)
The concept is simple: Line 6 isn’t a transit company, but a platform that people can use to propose, crowdfund and book passage on putative new routes. If there’s sufficient interest in a route, the company will arrange for transportation with partners in the coach business. (Thinstock)

Disruptors

Startup tackles Toronto transit woes with crowdfunded shuttle service Add to ...

The founders of Line 6 could not have picked a better time to launch a new way of organizing transportation in Toronto. The city is in the grips of an interminable mayoral election, in which the city’s well-documented gridlock has taken a front seat, to the frustration of more or less everybody. The leading candidates’ plans range from disingenuous to implausible to “maybe this will help in 2025.”

Into this muddle step two young political communications specialists who are launching a platform for Toronto’s residents to organize their own transit routes.

The concept is simple: Line 6 isn’t a transit company, but a platform that people can use to propose, crowdfund and book passage on putative new routes. If there’s sufficient interest in a route, the company will arrange for transportation with partners in the coach business.

“If there’s a group of people who see a need for transit, then they should have the opportunity to organize that for themselves,” says Brett Chang, one of the service’s co-founders.

First, however, they’ve got to get off the ground, and the company is in the midst of a well-publicized launch on one trial route: A week-long morning run from the Liberty Village neighbourhood to downtown. It’s a move that was destined to attract attention.

The brand-new, condo-heavy neighbourhood is close to the downtown core, but has swamped both local transit lines and roads to the point of impassability at rush hour.

To that end, Line 6 is offering a $25 pass for a five-day trial of morning runs, starting October 6. If it works out, they’ll add an afternoon run. Every seat will be assigned, so there will be no more standing; the entrepreneurs will be serving coffee at the stops.

Liberty Village’s notoriety as a transit disaster zone has garnered Line 6 some early attention. But their long-term vision is to build the platform into a full-bore Kickstarter-style crowdfunding operation, allowing consumer interest to drive the proposed routes.

“Any route moving forward is going to be driven by people,” Mr. Chang says. “We want to see bottom-up transit planning.” Like all crowdfunding ventures, Line 6 offers coach companies a way of testing market demand for a new route before launching it.

Chang, who grew up on the western edges of the city, would like to see the service provide options not just for downtown commuters, but for point-to-point transit to and from areas that the Toronto Transit Commission doesn’t make it easy to reach, like his end of Etobicoke.

By law, Toronto’s municipal government keeps a monopoly on licensing transportation services, as municipalities have for centuries, but the City of Toronto Act does make an exception for charters “to transport a group of persons for a specific trip within the municipality for a group fee,” which Mr. Chang says, is precisely what Line 6 proposes to facilitate. If the municipality plans to challenge Line 6’s interpretation of this clause, Chang says the startup has yet to hear about it.

The venture co-founded by Mr. Chang and Taylor Scullion; the two are also partners in a digital public-affairs consultancy. Mr. Chang previously worked for Tim Hudak, Ontario’s former Conservative leader; Mr. Scollon for the office of Premier Kathleen Wynne. The launch version of Line 6 is actually built on NationBuilder, a popular platform for running political campaigns – it’s what the pair knew – but they’re rebuilding the site on Rails for its next iteration.

For now, though, Line 6 is focused on its test week. “We don’t see ourselves as competitors to the TTC. We see ourselves as complimentary it,” says Mr. Chang. “We’re facing hyper-growth in this city, and we’re just hoping to find a alt solution that might make commuting a bit better.”

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