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Carpooling Illegal? PickupPal Learns the Hard Way

Posted by Joshua / November 12, 2008

Toronto CarpoolingFledgling carpool organization PickupPal was dealt a heavy blow by the Ontario Highway Transport Board, who found that they were operating an illegal carpooling operation. With the launch of Smart Commute Toronto and carpooling on everyone's mind (commuters and businesses alike) as a way to save money (and the environment), the decision in this case seems extra laughable.

PickupPal seems to have gotten themselves in trouble by letting ride seekers pay drivers for rides, which irritated bus companies, and apparently violated the Public Vehicles Act.

Naturally, PickupPal has reacted, by creating a list of criteria that must be met for carpooling to be legal, including the ridiculous rule that you can only travel between home and work, and that you cannot cross municipal boundaries. Somehow seeing those rules makes me feel extra good about the samosas I pick up with my carpool buddy in Malton, on my way to Toronto from our work in Mississauga.

It may be that PickupPal is violating existing (and behind-the-times) rules, but it is absurd for those wishing to carpool being denied simply because they want to pay the driver for the gas.

Jerrold said it better than I could have:
"If I want to pay my friend to trim my toenails, I should be able to (whether they own a nail shop or not). If I want to pay for gas when I get a ride to Montreal off Craigslist, I should be able to (whether a bus company objects or not). This story is going international, and it's making Ontario look like a joke."

Photo by blogTO flickr pooler bending light.



Maria / November 12, 2008 at 11:32 am
How is it going international?
rIAm / November 12, 2008 at 11:40 am
shame on you, Ontario... this is so ridiculous I am speechless...

i am thinking about flooding craigslist and other boards with car and bike pool requests that cross municipal lines and offer to pay for the services... mwahhhh! anyone want to carpool with me?
Jerrold / November 12, 2008 at 11:42 am
If it's on TechCruch, the world is reading about it.

Pickuppal operates in countries all over the world, and it's only Ontario that has won a lawsuit against them on these grounds.
Jason / November 12, 2008 at 11:45 am
We love our cartels. (The Beer Store, dairy doard, LCBO, wheat board...)

Don't forget Allostop. They had a rideshare between Toronto and Montreal about a decade ago. Voyager bus line complained and they closed down their Toronto office.
_V / November 12, 2008 at 12:20 pm
Infuriating and embarassing. To whom do we write to express our displeasure???
Joshua / November 12, 2008 at 12:22 pm
I suggest writing to your MPP. And whoever else will listen.
Corina / November 12, 2008 at 12:25 pm
So what if the passengers bought gas and put it in the car themselves? Seems like there's just a few formalities to get around.. hopefully the carpool initiaitves aren't shut down over it.
Vivyruest / November 12, 2008 at 12:41 pm
I miss Allo-Stop...the service was brilliant.
Eddy / November 12, 2008 at 12:58 pm
I'm going to have to agree w/ the evil government on this one... What's preventing me from starting up my own illegal taxi cab company? Licensing, insurance, safety... these are legitimate concerns
Jerrold / November 12, 2008 at 01:03 pm
Picking up strangers on the street and driving them around for cash isn't the same as organizing a carpooling arrangement with someone who is going the same way as you every day and wants to split gas and help reduce pollution.
Jason / November 12, 2008 at 01:13 pm
@Eddy: "public safety" is always the reason we're given for our cartels. Raw milk is all about "public safety", when really it's about the dairy board wanting to keep control.

As for your taxi cab - licensing, insurance and safety currently apply to all cars on the road. If you had two identical cars, both with a driver and paying passenger, how it one "safer" because it is an "official" taxi?
serotonin / November 12, 2008 at 02:09 pm
I agree with some of those above, a taxi is a for-profit job. As taxis they are also required to take on passengers, and are not legally allowed to discriminate.

The differences should then be obvious when comparing to organized car pools, where the payment is intended to only cover operating expenses and provide no profit. In addition, one running a car pool has full discretion as to who they want to pick up and where they want to go.
Ryan L. / November 12, 2008 at 04:45 pm
I had emailed my MPP and received quick response.

Part of it is quoted below:

As for how we can try to change the law, I invite you to join us in exerting pressure on the current Minister of Transportation, Jim Bradley, by writing his office a letter expressing your well-founded concerns. The more Ontarians that reach out and demand change from the Minister, the more likely it is that something positive will result.
Please write to:

The Honourable James J. Bradley
Ontario Minister of Transportation
77 Wellesley St W, 3rd Flr, Ferguson Block
Toronto ON M7A 1Z8

M. Val / November 12, 2008 at 05:36 pm
Again, this ruling keeps Ontario completely out-of-touch with the surging interest for car-pooling as an energy-efficient use of automobiles for inter-city trips.
For instance, coordinated and paid car-pooling works great in Europe and in Quebec, with excellent safety records.
Quebec-based Allo-Stop even had a car-pooling office in Toronto until a few years ago (for trips to Montreal and Ottawa) when Ontario ordered it closed at the request of bus companies.
Obviously, in Ontario, the lobbying from very few large bus companies and the US-based makers of big and fuel-hungry vehicles still rule the provincial agenda for personal road transportation.
Backward !
Shameful !
Eddy / November 12, 2008 at 06:57 pm
Okay, guys! Eddy's Illegal Taxi Cab service is now in business! Orders will be taken through PickupPal... There's no way to verify my driving history, or even if I have a valid driver's license or insurance in force... My car's got a hole in the floor and a bungee cable / duct tape combo will be used as seat belts.
Joshua / November 12, 2008 at 10:15 pm
What's stopping you, Eddy, is that it is a mutually agreed upon / negotiated rate. I doubt it's a very good money maker.

If you look at the ruling (see the PickupPal link above), one of the findings is that despite trying to make them out as one, PickupPal was determined to NOT be a makeshift taxi company.
rek / November 12, 2008 at 10:30 pm
Didn't this happen 4 months ago?
Jerrold / November 12, 2008 at 10:49 pm
@ rek

No, the results of the lawsuit were announced today.
aahhrrgg / November 13, 2008 at 12:20 am
Living outside the law. More and more of us will have to get used to it.
Equalizer / November 13, 2008 at 01:35 am
"Public safety", "lack of population density", and widespread pockets of low population are the reasons cited for Joe SixPack being rammed by industry.
Diane / November 13, 2008 at 10:20 am
So when is the OPP blitz to stop drivers from carpooling illegally?
Chandra / November 17, 2008 at 03:51 pm
What is really being hurt is the communities vulnerable citizens. I coordinate a non-profit transportation program that operates on a cost recovery fee system. It is to help seniors and the disabled who are not able to take ttc and can't afford to take taxis get to their doctors, therapy and other important appointments. This law is now putting these programs at risk. It's ridiculous.
megan mooney / November 17, 2008 at 04:49 pm
I dunno, the thing is, the ruling is based on the law. It's not some random judgment. So, Ontario is working to change the law so that it addresses these issues, but in the meantime the ruling was based on current legislation.

Actually, in the new no cellphones while driving legislation there is also some stuff to clarify what's going on.

Obviously it is stupid to not let people carpool, that was never the intention of the legislation. The intention of the legislation was to make sure that unregulated bus and taxi services don't pop up all over the place.

And yeah, sure, you can say it doesn't matter, if you agree on a price and are willing to risk the whole licensing issue with the driver, upkeep of the car, the fact the breaks work etc - that's fine, that's your decision to make. But a couple things seem flawed there to me:
- When was the last time you inspected a bus before you decided you were going to take it to Montreal? Or, do you just assume that greyhound has provided upkeep on their vehicles and that their drivers have been trained and that what's happening is legit enough that you know that the driver isn't going to get pissed off and pull off onto some side road to nowhere and leave you in the middle of no where? So, sure, it is a deal that the consume decides to enter into, and yes, everyone has the right to make business deals that have potential dangers, but the problem is that people won't know that Eddy of Eddy's Illegal Taxi Cab service has let his insurance lapse, has a DUI charge on his license, and that the car itself is not physically safe - not until they've tried Eddy. So, it seems to me that people wouldn't be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to trust Eddy with their life.

- While the person in the car/van/bus is making the decision to not care about regulations and just risk it, there are bunches of other people on bikes, on the sidewalk, and in cars that don't have a choice but to share the road with them. Vehicles that are used as work tools (trucks, buses, cabs etc) get a lot more wear and tear than normal cars. Without regulation there is no way to tell how often the car is being serviced, how often the breaks are being checked and so on. Which means there's a higher likelihood of them being unsafe, leading to potential danger to others in the area.

I know people think the government is stupid, and maybe it is. But there is no way that they intended to make carpooling illegal. Basically, if people weren't using this site in a way it wasn't intended in the first place, then it wouldn't be a problem.

All of this said - it's a shame this is going on, and there isn't a way to just penalize the people who are doing the shady business dealings, and not the organization that is facilitating ride sharing. It'll be fixed in time, but you know, in government time...
Brian Simpson / February 27, 2009 at 12:02 am
It is really a sorry state of affairs when private bus companies are suing in court and denying Canadians their basic rights to help their bottom line. And the worst part is that they're winning.
nick / November 25, 2009 at 09:52 am
perhaps declare your car as a "private vehicle"
Peter Piper / February 28, 2012 at 11:16 am
The solution is simple really: Just run the system from outside the province.

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