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The Highwayman’s Glitch

Going around the bend
Photo by bitefight from the Torontoist Flickr Pool
Pop quiz:
You log into your Smart Commute Carpool Zone account to find someone to share your daily commute from Newmarket to downtown. You pair up with a fellow commuter, agreeing to share gas costs.
Your friend uses the new GoLoco Facebook application to find someone to share her upcoming drive to Kingston to visit friends. She pairs up with a fellow traveler, agreeing to split gas costs for the trip.
Both you and your friend (and your passengers, of course) are doing your part to reduce greenhouse gases and combat pollution by ride sharing. You’re both using third-party services to help match you up with potential passengers. And you’re both splitting the cost of the trips with your passengers. So which one of you is breaking the law?

Your friend is almost certainly a lawless ne’er-do-well thanks to a seven-year-old ruling by the little-known Ontario Highway Transport Board, a tribunal charged with regulating the arcane business of public vehicles in Ontario.
A public vehicle is any vehicle other than a taxi or carpool vehicle that doesn’t operate entirely within one municipality and that carries passengers who pay some form of compensation for the ride. Most people would associate that definition with buying tickets for an intercity bus, not with a couple of people splitting the cost of gas to travel out of town. But the Board ruled in a 2000 case against the ride-sharing service Allo Stop that any money exchanging hands—even just chipping in for gas or buying the driver a coffee—constitutes compensation for the ride and turns your private car into a public vehicle.
Commuter parking lotIn the pop quiz scenario above, both GoLoco and your friend are breaking the law because they accept compensation for arranging the ride and driving, respectively, without being licensed as public vehicle operators. But wait, you’re accepting payment too. Why aren’t you and Smart Commute considered scofflaws? Because the ruling makes exceptions for completely free services like the Carpool Zone and for people who are commuting to and from work every day. And even then, the ruling—which does not appear to be available online—contains a very narrow definition of commuter as someone who travels to work “from a place in the suburbs into the city.”
Allo Stop was forced to cease arranging rides in Ontario (it continues to operate in Quebec) and was fined over $18,000, with $16,000 payable to the claimants who brought the case against it: intercity bus companies Voyageur Corp ($6,000), Greyhound Canada, and Trentway-Wagar ($10,000). Is it any wonder that they’d want any kind of competition brought to heel? The bus companies’ arguments before the Board were accepted virtually wholesale over the arguments made by Allo Stop’s lawyer.
Around the same time, the Board also ruled against now-defunct EcoRide, which had to pay $6,000 in costs to Greyhound and Trentway-Wagar. A January 2001 Toronto Star article about carpooling quoted EcoRide founder Alan Majer as saying, “It seems to be interpreted that ride sharing is illegal in Ontario.” And so it remains.
Ride with Hitler propaganda posterIn a letter sent to Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield last week, AutoShare President Kevin McLaughlin termed the current situation “idiocy” and urged a review of the policy, saying that Ontario may be the only jurisdiction in the world where ride sharing is effectively illegal.
In an era when politicians of all stripes try to emphasize their environmental bona fides, the contradiction of discouraging ride sharing is indeed a little striking.
Why is carpooling—as narrowly defined by the OHTB—acceptable when the broader application of ride sharing is not? Could it have anything to do with the economic self-interest of the companies that brought these complaints against Allo Stop and EcoRide? GoLoco, launched in spring 2007 by Zipcar founder Robin Chase, should keenly watch its rearview mirror for approaching buses loaded up with lawyers.
Instead of navigating the legal minefield of using GoLoco, maybe your ride-sharing friend should go old school and just pick up a hitchhiker along the way. Except that’s illegal too. Oh well.
Thanks to AutoShare President Kevin McLaughlin for bringing this issue to our attention and providing background information.
Top photo by bitefight; middle photo by News46, both from the Torontoist Flickr Pool. Bottom image from the U.S. National Archives via Wikipedia.


  • guest

    Quite shocking really. This is the first I had heard of the bus companies taking Allostop to court. Isn’t this called collusion in any other jurisdiction? It would be like the bus and limo companies fighting a train line to the airport, when in fact it is the customers who might prefer a faster and more comfortable ride (if not necessarily cheaper) who gets shafted.

  • David J. Widmann

    Y’know, normally I would shy away from using the word “idiocy” in formal communication, but in this case… holy crap, what idiocy. How can people be so stupid on purpose?

  • x_the_x

    Re (1), the bus companies took Allostop to court because they were operating as public vehicle operators without the required licence. It’s not collusive activity to require an operator to comply with the law. Aand, as an retort to the indignation inherent in: “The bus companies’ arguments before the Board were accepted virtually wholesale over the arguments made by Allo Stop’s lawyer,”, it may have been because the bus companies arguments were, you know, legally correct.
    I too think its a stupid rule; its garden variety protectionism, in this case of bus companies’ profit margins from smaller, more nimble suppliers. But your gripe is with the legislature, not the bus companies or the courts. As for your planes, trains and automoibiles rambling, there is no such legislative issue.

  • Val Dodge

    It wasn’t meant to be indignation, just a statement that the OHTB found overwhelmingly for the bus companies and against Allo Stop. It was clear to me upon reading the ruling that Allo Stop’s lawyer was unprepared and outclassed at the hearing. Allo Stop replaced him after the hearing but the Board, reasonably enough, refused to hear further arguments from the new lawyer.

  • guest

    This is classic Ontario.

  • Chester Pape

    It’s not like the regulated bus companies are not required to provide a quid pro quo for the protection they get and that is that they have to provide service to a whole bunch of backwater wide spots on the road like Kaladar and Perth Road Village, the rural service is subsidized by the volume routes. Deregulate the bus service and poof, bus service to these places disappears to be replaced by single rider car trips, car sharing or whomever is simply not going to fill that gap. Even if we went back to the days when it was usually known that anyone visiting Toronto from a small town would begin the return trip with stop at a particular intersection to see if anyone needed a ride back home.
    For that matter, do we really want to replace relatively carbon efficient 40-50 passenger buses with cars, even cars with multiple riders?

  • joelphillips

    From what I can tell, hitchhiking isn’t illegal in Ontario. The linked section on the statute looks bad:

    177. (1) No person, while on the roadway, shall solicit a ride from the driver of a motor vehicle other than a public passenger conveyance. 1999, c. 8, s. 7 (1).

    However, in the definitions:

    “roadway” means the part of the highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, but does not include the shoulder, and, where a highway includes two or more separate roadways, the term “roadway” refers to any one roadway separately and not to all of the roadways collectively; (“chaussée”)

    So it seems like if you stay on the shoulder (or the meridian, for that matter) you can hitch all you want.
    Anyone have any experience of doing this?

  • guest

    This reminds me of the Humber Bay Express – private bus service proposed for residents of Etobicoke waterfront condos to get to the financial district who aren’t being very well served by the TTC, which killed by the TTC last year.

  • guest

    I was about to start hitchhiking between Wyoming and Petrolia (these are near Sarnia) when someone who knew me stopped and picked me up before I had the chance to stick my thumb out. I’d been walking down the shoulder and was standing on the shoulder, and an OPP officer that had seen me walking and then turned back and been behind the car that picked me up stopped us and asked the driver if she was picking up a hitchhiker, letting us go when it was revealed that we knew each other.
    That’s the closest I’ve come to getting busted for hitchhiking, but the cops do definitely treat it as against the law.

  • guest

    and remember, this law was brought in by our favorite CONSERVATIVE premier, Mike Harris

  • guest

    Not only were these laws tightened by Harris: the lobbyist for Greyhound at the time was StrategyCorp, run by Leslie Noble. In addition, she helped write the “Common Sense Revolution,” and ran both of Harris’ successful election campaigns…

  • Ben

    Joel: Hitch hiking is very legal.