Cheap but unregulated: Why illegal carpooling is a growing problem
Radio-Canada investigation finds drivers willing to skirt the rules
Samantha Feder just wanted to get to Toronto.
In September, the Ottawa woman booked a trip with Amigo Express, a company that connects drivers with passengers looking to share the costs of long-distance trips, in what she expected would be a four-seat sedan.
But when she showed up on her day of departure, a shuttle-style van with an unfamiliar licence plate and more than a dozen random strangers inside was waiting for her.
"It was clear to me that there were people who maybe had booked from other services [like] Kijiji or Craigslist," Feder said.
"I decided I was not going to get into the car."
Kijiji, Craigslist and other such sites are filled with requests from drivers seeking passengers to share the cost of one-off trips, such as chipping in for gas, a practice that's completely above board.
But there are also posts offering multiple trips a day in state-of-the-art vans equipped with the internet and other amenities — and that sort of unlicensed carpooling is prohibited in both Ontario and Quebec.
In Ontario, transportation services that take passengers across municipal boundaries for a fee — aside from taxis and personal carpools — must have a proper operating licence through the Ontario Highway Transport Board.
Under the Public Vehicles Act, carpooling vehicles cannot carry more than 10 people.
They can only make a single, one-way or round trip per day, drivers can only charge to cover the costs of operating the vehicle, and the presence of passengers must be "incidental" to the driver's purpose for the trip, according to transportation ministry spokesperson Kristine Bunker.
"Drivers offering intercity rideshare services for compensation above and beyond reimbursement for expenses incurred to operate the vehicle are in contravention of these requirements," wrote Bunker in an email.
The regulations are also clear in Quebec: According to a statement on the transportation's ministry website, there is "no such thing as commercial carpooling."
As part of an investigation into the scope of illegal carpooling, Radio-Canada reserved a trip from Ottawa to Montreal with a driver who was offering six trips — three there and three back — each day.
Using hidden cameras, Radio-Canada reporters showed up at the meeting point twice to find the same driver in the same vehicle.
When asked if he had a special Ontario permit for this type of trip, the driver said he didn't and then told the reporters to "take a Greyhound" instead.
Contacted by Radio-Canada a few days later, the driver said he had ended this sort of activity. As of Friday, however, his advertisement was still online.
No licensing, no oversight
Radio-Canada also spoke to a group of people waiting for a similar carpooling pickup in the ByWard Market. Many said they weren't worried about safety risks, calling it a more affordable option than taking either the bus or the train.
"It is a problem," said Kristine D'Arbelles, a spokesperson with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
D'Arbelles said the internet has made illegal carpooling much easier, with risks to passengers. There's no way of knowing if the driver has a valid driver's licence, if they're insured, or what condition their vehicle is in, she said.
"There is no licensing and there is no oversight," she said.
Amigo Express, also known as Kangaride, declined an interview with Radio-Canada.
The company's director, Marc-Olivier Vachon, wrote in an email the company was taking all steps to stem the improper use of sites like Kijiji.
A spokesperson with Kijiji said the site is taking measures to counter illegal carpooling, and has a "dedicated commitment" to comply with the law.
"We commit significant resources toward the detection and prevention of activities that infringe our policies — this includes industry-leading technology and a dedicated community support team, in addition to help from our community of Kijiji users who flag inappropriate postings," wrote Marie-Philippe Busque in an email.
As for Feder, while she was able to get her booking refunded, she ended up having to take an expensive last-minute train to Toronto.
"Although they did give me credits, I haven't used the service since," she said.
With files from Radio-Canada's Yasmine Mehdi and Dominique Degré