Car-sharing Website under Threat from Bus Company

  • Published on August 21st, 2008

Car Share PosterCanadian website PickupPal is a ride-sharing “service [that] is providing a venue for either passengers or packages to find or be matched to a driver—typically already traveling in a certain direction or destination.” PickupPal uses its own software to match travelers and drivers, and then it’s up to them to negotiate prices, since PickupPal makes its money through advertising on the website itself. A pretty innovative service that gives travelers a bit more flexibility when traveling between cities, especially ones that are perhaps a bit more underserved by the bus/train/plane. The good news/ bad news situation for PickupPal is that they’ve become successful enough that their competitors are trying to shut them down.

PickupPal finds itself under threat from their closest competitor, intercity bus operator Trentway-Wagner. The latest salvo in the cutthroat battle to increase intercity travel market-share was submitted in mid-May to the Ontario Highway Transportation Board (OHTB). At challenge is the fact that the car-sharing service allows drivers to collect money by offering rides between cities.  According to Trentway-Wagner lawyer Robert Warren of WeirFoulds LLP:

Any time anybody operates such a service and they don’t have to comply with all these regulatory burdens, then it’s unfair competition in my client’s view,” Warren said. “They do erode substantially what really is a low-margin business.”

Considering that PickupPal has over 100 000 users registered, and about 10% based in Ontario, this challenge is a serious issue (not to mention that since it’s mighty hard to get between the Prairie provinces and the eastern provinces without travelling through Ontario). At one broad stroke, 10 000 users would be unable to use the service, plus any others who were hoping to travel from through the Windsor-Quebec City corridor (only the most-densely populated and industrialized area in Canada with about 17 million).

PickupPal has published a letter of support from Christine Stewart (who happens to have been Canada’s former Environment Minister) on their website, and according to her letter, similar ridesharing organizations operating in Ontario who have appeared before the OHTB have been shut down. Just below this letter of support from the Hon. Stewart is a petition addressed to Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGuinty. And therein lies PickupPal’s power: since users go to its website in order to login and try to matchup with rides, they always pass by the link to the petition.

The power of mobilizing a dedicated and passionate userbase in a small geography: political influence.

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Photo Credit: richardmasoner via Flickr’s Commons

About the Author

Amiel is the founder of the Globalis Group, an organization whose motto is "combining action and thought for a sustainable world." His experience includes working with the Canadian government on greenspace projects, sustainable development programs and on policy documents on issues as diverse as climate change, sustainable development, and the environmental and social impacts of transportation. He is listed on the UN’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory’s list of GHG experts, and has sat on the Canadian Environmental Certifications Board’s Greenhouse Gas Verification and Validation Certification committee.