Ride-Sharing PickupPal Under Fire From Bus Line and Bureaucracy

Via Techcrunch and Ars Technica, Toronto startup PickupPal is finding itself accused of violating Ontario carpooling laws. The complainant is bus company Trentway Wagar, and the argument is that PickupPal, a website to connect people looking for ride-sharing arrangements, constitutes an unlicensed, uninsured transport service that unfairly competes with their bus line. Under the Ontario Public Vehicles Act’s very strict definition of what a carpool is, they are correct: a carpool can only travel between home and work, operate every weekday with the same driver, and can only pay weekly.

Obviously though, these laws were written before social networks and peak oil; is PickupPal really going against the spirit of this law? They now have “Save PickupPal in Ontario!” emblazoned on their front page, with a link to a petition. Alongside the petition is a letter from PickupPal user and former Liberal MP Christine Stewart…

Ridesharing curbs green-house-gas emissions and cuts down on traffic congestion and airborne pollution. Over 70% of the daily carbon footprint emitted by individuals comes from vehicle transportation. The Government of Ontario recognizes the importance of this by spending billions of our tax dollars on municipal and provincial public transit systems and by building hundreds of kilometers of ‘High Occupancy Vehicle’ (HOV) lanes on our highways. In the Ontario Government’s own literature, they state: “Giving people better alternatives to driving alone is one of the most effective ways to tackle congestion now and to provide a transportation system that is more sustainable in the future.” Further, in a statement supporting the building of the HOV lanes and their use, the Ontario Government states: “Sharing a ride – as a driver or a passenger – may be easier than you think!” The Ontario Government seems to be oblivious to its Public Vehicles Act, as administered by the Government’s own OHTB, which could significantly undermine the viability of ridesharing in Ontario.

On May 20th 2008, bus company Trentway-Wagar, a subsidiary of an international corporation, challenged the legitimacy of PickupPal under the Public Vehicles Act as administered by the OHTB and delivered notice to appear before the Board for a hearing on this matter on October 15th, 2008. Similar ridesharing organizations operating in Ontario who have appeared before the OHTB have been shut down. Bus companies enjoy a variety of subsidies in Ontario, including unencumbered access to HOV lanes: “All buses will be permitted to use the HOV lanes at all times regardless of the number of occupants to ensure reliable and on-time bus service and to allow them to return to the beginning of their routes more quickly and consistently.”

Techcrunch’s Mike Arrington, master of the linkbait headline, ran a post titled “More Proof That Canada Hates the Environment”. Jeez Mike, whatcha takin aboot, eh? Yes, our government bureaucracy is a double double pain, but most Canadians can’t help but revere our country’s natural beauty. Just pay no attention to those big projects out west. Now, if you’ll excuse me, after biking to work today, I could go for some organic, shade-grown coffee in a reusable mug that I got at Mountain Equipment Co-op.

PickupPal has a hearing before the Ontario Highway Transportation Board scheduled for October 15.