Ontario Highway Transport Board’s Stupid Decision on PickupPal

by Joey deVilla on November 13, 2008

pickuppalPickupPal, which describes itself as “the largest online carpooling community in the world”, is a site that allows people all over the world to arrange to rideshare or carpool. It’s used by people travelling to the same place to arrange carpools to work, rides out of town and even share a ride to see their favourite bands in concert. It’s a great way for people to save money, gas and the environment.

The only people who seem to have a problem with PickupPal are the bus companies in Ontario. PickupPal lets people seeking rides pay the people driving them, and the bus companies in the province sensed a threat to their business model. The bus companies decided to go to the Ontario Highway Transit Board, which found PickupPal in violation of the Public Vehicles Act.

The problem with the Act is that it makes a lot of ridesharing illegal. The only way you can carpool with someone is if you meet all the criteria listed below:

  • Travel can only be between home and work. Carpooling to school, the ski hill, a concert or the airport are not allowed.
  • You cannot cross municipal boundaries. If my co-worker David and I, who live in Toronto, were to commute to the Microsoft office, which is in Mississauga, we’d be in violation of the Act.
  • You must ride with the same driver each day. If I were to ride to Microsoft with David on Tuesdays and Thursdays and with Developer and VP Mark Relph (my boss’ boss) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we’d be in violation of the act.
  • You can’t pay the driver more frequently than once a week. If I give David gas money on Tuesday and then again on Thursday, I’ve just broken the law.

This isn’t the first time the bus companies have messed with a ridesharing service. The popular Quebec-based service Allo Stop, which was a service that allowed people to find rides between Toronto and Montreal – a very popular travel corridor – was banned in Ontario after the Ontario Highway Transit Board ruled that their service was illegal. The Board did this at the behest of the bus companies Greyhound, Voyageur and Trentway-Wagar. The “logic” of the decision, according to Felix D’Mello of the Ontario Highway Transport Board, who said "If you are transporting passengers beyond a municipal boundary, and getting compensation for it, the only way you can provide that kind of service is with a public transportation license."

Why should I be forbidden to carpool simply because I want to pay the driver for gas (or, the more likely scenario: because I want to be compensated for gas)? The bus companies are simply using a law whose intent was to protect the public as a cudgel with which to beat perceived competition out of existence.

What can be done? A BlogTO reader wrote his MPP, who responded quickly by suggesting that we exert pressure on the Honourable Jim Bradley, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation. Write him and express your concerns! He can be reached via old-school mail at:

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

or via email at jbradley.mpp@liberal.ola.org

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul November 13, 2008 at 1:37 am

It seems to me that the intent of this law is to protect the consumer against unregulated cab companies, and other transportation services. I don’t really see a way to water it down without allowing unscrupulous operators to circumvent the taxi and bus licensing regulations. Perhaps these web sites should just make it policy that no money can change hands as payment for the ride. If “gas money” is to be exchanged, it should be done when the car is being filled up.

michael November 13, 2008 at 2:18 am

Why do consumer’s need to be “protected” from unregulated cab companies? Ours are regulated to death and I need protection from _them_, because there’s only two they charge duopoly prices and have correspondingly terrible service.

Randy November 13, 2008 at 2:46 am

That’s a ludicrous solution, I’m sorry – what if I start with a full tank? What if someone is dropped off before we get to a gas station? Etc.

In a more general sense, the cost of disallowing carpooling / ridesharing is far greater (to the public) than the benefit of preventing unlicensed cabbies. Surely there are better, less draconian ways to distinguish between the two.

It truly defies belief that this law is even on the books in the first place – the crossing municipal boundaries part should have set off alarms in the head of anyone from Southern Ontario, loud enough to deafen them permanently.

M November 13, 2008 at 9:51 am

There should be no concern about watering it down. Look how explicit those restrictions are. Just change them to allow “real” car-pooling. This is a law that is completely out of touch with reality.

Kevin November 13, 2008 at 10:24 am

It’s a bit unfair to dump on the Board. They don’t have the authority to change or ignore the legislation — even if it is stupid. It doesn’t look like the Act was intended to ban car pooling, but the bus companies have figured out that it can be used that way. Let’s update the Act and take that option away from them. It shouldn’t be too tough to draft something that permits car pooling without providing a loophole that allows for pirate taxis and buses.

Dmitry November 14, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Where the hell those criteria came from????
The only definition of “carpooling” is in the Highway Traffic Act:
“car pool vehicle” means a motor vehicle
(a) with a seating capacity of not more than twelve persons,
(b) while it is operated transporting no more than twelve commuters including the driver, none of whom pay for the transportation more frequently than on a weekly basis,
(c) that is not used by any one driver to transport commuters for more than one round trip per day, and
(d) the owner, or if the vehicle is subject to a lease, the lessee, of which does not own or lease another car pool vehicle unless the owner or lessee is the employer of a majority of the commuters transported in the vehicles,

So?

Monsyne Dragon November 16, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Heh. And you folks are surprised at this? The practical effect of EVERY such licensing and regulation scheme is to protect established interests from competition.

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