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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Carpooling: Good for the environment, too bad it's illegal

In many cases, the goals of environmentalism and capitalism coincide. Take, for instance, the fact that less packaging is a savings for a company. So, too, are those new instructions in hotel rooms: "To save the environment, we only wash those towels that you leave on the floor, letting us know that they're dirty."

If it saves money, great. Things get cheaper, people become wealthier. Life is good, and everyone is happy.

Environmentalists have also become very entrepreneurial. The guy who founded Whole Foods, for example, is a libertarian. And there's no shortage of clever companies popping up here and there trying to accomplish two things at once--make money, and save the environment.

Too bad the state is always getting in the way.

Did you know we have a car company in Canada? It's all electric, good for the environment. It's also illegal in every province except British Columbia. From a Western Standard story on the ZENN (Zero Emissions, No Noise) vehicle:

"Until late last year, Transport Canada stated that the ZENN did not meet Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and it was only after the CBC aired a story about this egregious government oversight that the ZENN was cleared for sale. But the regulatory barriers to be cleared were far from over; after being approved for sale in Canada the ZENN now needs to be approved for operation in each individual province. Since British Columbia approved the operation of ZENN cars in 2000, no other provinces have followed suit."

And now comes word that a nifty new carpooling service called PickUpPal is going to get the boot in Ontario.


It violates Ontario's Public Vehicles Act!

Quoting now: "No person shall arrange or offer to arrange transportation of passengers by means of a public vehicle operated by another person unless that other person is the holder of an operating licence authorizing that other person to perform the transportation."

Of course, it was a competitor who raised the objection. Trentway-Wagar, a bus company, is pushing to ban PickUpPal in Ontario. And that's what regulations are for, generally: Make sure the current crop of businesses don't have to actually outcompete competitors by offering cheaper or better service. They can just lean on a stack of regulations to keep profit margins high.

So we sign the Kyoto Accord, we create mountains of new regulations, provide special lanes for carpoolers, encourage and incentivize recycling, make lightbulbs illegal, and still can't get an electric car or a bunch of people to carpool. Maybe, instead of thinking of brand spanking new regulations, some of us should start looking at removing and eliminating some of the old ones first.

Hey, you never know, you might save the earth in the process.

(Go ahead and sign the petition to keep PickUpPal. I'd rather use that than get on a bus or the VIA rail anyways.)

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on August 24, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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If you look, you will always find someone who benefits from government decisions and legislation, and they will do so at the expense of someone else.

Human capital is our greatest asset and it seems the one governments are best at restricting!

Posted by: TM | 2008-08-25 6:46:02 AM

What a novel concept- "UNdoing something". Like eliminating regulations. What a refreshing change it would be to see some common sense applied to common law.

Posted by: JC | 2008-08-25 6:49:34 AM

Carpooling isn't difficult; you just need a co-worker who lives in your area or (approximately) on your route to work. I give one of mine a ride two days a week (her hours are different for the other three). Unless you work for a company with a lot of employees, however, the chances of one being more or less in your "catchment area" is pretty low.

Higher success rates would be realized if every company in the neighbourhood put their potatoes together and people with cars gave rides to those who work nearby, but then that raises the sticky issue over who's liable in the event of an accident. (I wish someone would abolish vicarious liability--really. It's an affront to civilization.)

As for the ZENN, don't look for sympathy. It's a glorified golf cart that barely outperforms a 1912 Detroit Electric. It is perfectly possible to build an electric car for today's roads with current technology. ZENN would be better off doing so instead of expecting the world to change to suit its product.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-08-25 7:45:54 AM

P.S. Look for electric cars to take off when they finally create supercapacitors with the capacity of batteries. They take a full charge in minutes, if not seconds, and use no caustic chemicals. Just so everyone knows, I'm not knocking electric cars. They open up a whole raft of possibilities. With a motor on each wheel, sideways driving (for parallel parking and lane changes) becomes possible, as does zero-point steering (rotating in place to get out of a tight spot). You can even apply reverse while moving forward, and regenerative braking means you'll spend a lot less on brake linings.

When you think of modern cars as the Rube-Goldberg contraptions they are--engine, transmission, differential, ignition system, cooling system, electrical system, emissions-control system--it's a wonder they run at all. Electrics, biofuel-electrics, and perhaps pneumatics are definitely where the future is headed. I will miss shifting gears, though. :-)

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-08-25 7:53:42 AM

First, it should be noted that the law does not prohibit car pooling, as the heading here says. It prohibits charging money to drive someone without a licence. The definition of "public vehicle" in the "Public Vehicles Act" is interesting on this. It says:

"'public vehicle' means a motor vehicle operated on a highway by, for or on behalf of any person for the transportation for compensation of passengers, or passengers and express freight that might be carried in a passenger vehicle, but does not include the cars of electric or steam railways running only upon rails, taxicabs, car pool vehicles, nor motor vehicles operated solely within the limits of one local municipality"

So they explicitly exclude car pools from the definition of "public vehicle", but because PickUpPal involves paying for the service, it is essentially a taxi service, not a car pool. But as someone who has used Allostop in Quebec and as someone who has both been a driver and a passanger in the past in paid ride sharing, I must say it never felt like a cab service to me.

Saving PickUpPal sounds like a very good idea, but there is more than one way to do that. On the one hand, if they simply became a licenced service, then all would be good. But I suspect that this is not nearly so simple a thing to do. On the other hand, revising the PVA to not require a licence would seem to open the door to anyone who wants to putting a taxi sign on the roof of their car and trolling the streets for customers, which likely would mean that all such licences would soon disappear.

I think that's supposed to be a bad thing, but I'm not sure why. Something to do with safety, I think. But having travelled in the developing world where anyone with a (barely) road worthy vehicle can offer a ride for a fee and living to tell the tale makes me wonder about the general safety risk of allowing the same here.

The PVA is quite a dated document, and humorously so. Section 22 is headed "Passengers not to be allowed on running board, etc." (Running board? Ask your grandparents, kids.) No wonder the act is out of touch with the times. It literally *IS* from a long ago era.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-08-25 8:07:33 AM

"Until late last year, Transport Canada stated that the ZENN did not meet Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and it was only after the CBC aired a story about this egregious government oversight that the ZENN was cleared for sale.
Posted by P.M. Jaworski on August 24, 2008

And neither does an electric golf cart which is essentially what the ZENN is. The ZENN has a top speed of 25MPH / 40KPH which means that it can't be driven at the minimum speed on most roads.

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-08-25 8:30:07 AM

I can already see the traffic tie ups due to a Zenn holding everybody back, you know like bicycles. Wait, if bikes can't keep up to the speed limit why not electric cars.

Posted by: glen | 2008-08-25 9:21:55 AM

Here Are the only electric vehicles you can buy NOW.


These are the fastest of the low speed ev's out there check em out!

Posted by: AnotherDork | 2008-08-25 9:47:30 AM

Fact Check: The title is intended to grab your attention, and was not meant to be read literally. But I think you knew that already...

Also, carpooling is illegal in very many cases. For example, if you cross municipal boundaries, that's illegal (so if you work in one municipality, but live in another, you're busy breaking the law). I used to go to undergrad in Kingston, but my parents lived in Orono. I drove with friends. Illegal.

That is, if you or they give any amount of money or some other service as payment. I don't know of anyone--literally not a one--who carpools without at least paying something for gas, or sometimes buying dinner, or whatever, as a "thank you" for the ride. And that counts as payment or consideration. And that makes the carpooling illegal.

Saving PickUpPal via a licence would require that each individual "driver" get a licence. PickUpPal is just a Hayekian, spontaneous order co-ordinating mechanism. You type in where you're going, someone else says they're going that way too, the website let's you know, and voila! You've got a ride to Sault St. Marie. But who's going to pay for a licence in Ontario? These people don't want to do this for a living, they just want to do it if they happen to be going somewhere on the weekend or whatever.

At any rate, I think we should just do away with licensing of taxi cabs altogether, as you sort of suggested.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-08-25 11:05:34 AM

As for all the criticisms about the ZENN--what's your beef with golf carts? Those things are awesome.

In Bowling Green, the parking police use modified golf carts, and they're excellent. They never slow traffic, because traffic never goes faster than, say, 35 or 40 km in the city anyways.

If the ZENN is a slightly faster and slightly better golf cart, sign me up!

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-08-25 11:08:22 AM

As for all the criticisms about the ZENN--what's your beef with golf carts? Those things are awesome.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 25-Aug-08 11:08:22 AM

I don't have any criticism of golf carts as long as they stay on golf courses. The ZENN's speed, range and cost, and the fact you can't drive them on a highway render them essentially useless. Their top speed of 25MPH and range of 40 miles means they have a useful cycle of around 1 1/2 hours before they need recharged. It takes 8 hours to fully charge it. I can buy a Yaris for the same price.

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-08-25 11:32:35 AM


"Also, carpooling is illegal in very many cases."

I think we are getting hung up here on semantics, again. According to the law, if you charge someone for the ride, it is not carpooling. It is an unlicenced taxi service. If no money changes hands, then it is a carpool. But even if money changes hands, it is only an unlicenced taxi service if payment was demanded or expected. So if an offer to pay for gas was not asked for and not even an unspoken condition of the ride, then paying for gas does not violate the law. Hell, even hitchhiking is not illegal (where, in essence, you carpool with a stranger). It is only restricted on certain highways because of the dangers of having people stand by the side of the road and of cars stopping there.

"Saving PickUpPal via a licence would require that each individual 'driver' get a licence. PickUpPal is just a Hayekian, spontaneous order co-ordinating mechanism."

Is that named for Salma Hayek? Oh ... right ... Friedrich.

But now the system sounds like file sharing. The websites that provide the connection between downloader and uploader do not host the content or provide it, so if a download is illegal, it is the uploader or downloader that breaks the law, not the website. The same should be true for PickUpPal. They do not give the ride or pay for the ride. They just connect drivers with passangers. If the driver has no licence, well, that's the driver's fault. So the car pool "dating service" should be legit, no?

"At any rate, I think we should just do away with licensing of taxi cabs altogether, as you sort of suggested."

That's probably the simplest solution. Or make it optional, so if there are enough drivers and passangers who like the sytem and what it is supposed to provide, they could still have it. Either way, I think we agree that only a fool (or a business competitor) thinks that PickUpPal should be shut down.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-08-25 11:34:15 AM

P.M., I had not considered that the law in this matter might be different in Bantario than in B.C. In any case though, I doubt very much whether even Dalton McGuinty or David Miller would form a task force of undercover cops to handcuff every motorist who drove some friends to work and was paid with Coke or Doritos or whatever, sometimes days after the fact. Seriously, man, I'm glad I don't live in your province. It's getting as bad as Blairian England.

I don't have any beef with golf carts, provided they stay on the fairway. If you're driving one as an urban runabout and it's your only source of transportation, the day will come when you need to take it on a real road, and before you know it half the city will be backed up behind you. A cyclist is small enough to be skirted around; not so a full-sized auto with a hair-dryer motor.

If you want an electric car, either build your own or buy a Tesla Roadster. Tying up traffic is not acceptable.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-08-25 11:38:51 AM

I agree with you, Shane, tying up traffic is bad. But I don't think the ZENN would do that. I really don't.

And, yes, I can't believe PickUpPal is illegal in my home province. It's just so dumb.

Fact Check: You're right, it is semantic. It is the difference between what you and I and ordinary folk would call "carpooling" and how the law (in Ontario) technically defines "carpooling."

You wrote: "They do not give the ride or pay for the ride. They just connect drivers with passengers. If the driver has no licence, well, that's the driver's fault. So the car pool "dating service" should be legit, no?"

It should, it should!

But here's the rub: PickUpPal knows that those using their service in Ontario are about as likely to have a licence as Metallica is of posting their own music on Kazaa or bit torrent. I think that's enough for the Ontario government to shut them down as a facilitator of illegal activity.

I really hope that PickUpPal is successful in changing the law in Ontario.

(Side-note: Do you remember the big power-outage in Ontario? Since the subways shut down, many people started giving strangers rides for money without a licence. That helped a lot of people, even though it was illegal. I'm glad there are those decent folks out there who recognize when a law is stupid, and break it with a clear conscience. But I'm a bit of a radical...)

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-08-25 11:56:58 AM

TM got it right. Also do not forget that all bureaucrats need to justify their jobs.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-08-25 1:03:08 PM

I have to disagree about the ZENN and traffic, J.C. I don't know about Toronto, but in Metro Vancouver there are many two-lane roads with a posted limit of 60 kph--a good 25 kph above what the ZENN can do. If you venture far outside your own neighbourhood you will inevitably encounter one of these roads. Get even one of these little baubles on such a route and watch the curbside shootings ensue.

I really don't see how they can expect the whole world to re-engineer itself to suit their product when the obvious solution is to use more powerful electric motors. I mean come on, there are electric motors out there big enough to pull TRAINS. I realize this is supposed to be an economy vehicle, but if it wants to call itself a car and not a cart, it needs to up the ponies. Even a dinky 50-cc scooter has no trouble reaching 60 kph. And if these motors are constantly operated at maximum or near-maximum performance (as they likely will be), they're not going to last.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-08-25 2:32:28 PM

P.S. How are they on hills? While electric motors provide max torque at any speed (unlike gasoline engines), they still have to be up to the load.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-08-25 2:37:18 PM

The ZENN is just another case of an inferior Canadian product that has to be good just because, well "we" made it. I would like to get my hands on the TH!NK City. It has a range of 170km and a top speed of 100 km/h and comes with all the comforts of a real car.

Posted by: Ike | 2008-08-25 2:48:04 PM

Ike, I won't be touching electric cars until they develop supercapacitor technology for them. Electrochemical batteries are too finicky, too heavy, too short-lived, and too damn EXPENSIVE to power a vehicle expected to last ten years minimum. Many battery packs only provide 500 to 1,000 recharge cycles before replacement becomes necessary. Supercapacitors recharge in seconds, not hours, and can be recharged millions of times.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-08-25 3:07:05 PM

The real problem with environmental initiatives, such as car pooling, isn't a conflict with regulations, it is the perceived legal can-of-worms.

Government agencies here in Australia are reluctant to even tacitly endorse or facilitate initiatives such as walking buses, or car pooling, because they fear a mishap may cause litigation. By endorsing a scheme not directly under their control they can be seen to be failing in a duty-of-care.

Thus most environmental initiatives end up being undertaken at a loose informal level, missing out on many of the advantages that would come if all the government and non-government stakeholders were fully engaged with them.

Where government agencies do decide to directly engage with such a scheme they tend to require a set of rules or impositions that take away any elegant simplicity from the project rendering it unattractive to most potential participants.

Posted by: Chris Harries | 2008-08-25 4:47:53 PM

If the government didn't make so many laws and regulations and wasn't so eager to make more of them then there would be no can of worms to open. The can of worms wouldn't exists.

Posted by: Ike | 2008-08-25 5:20:59 PM

Fat Chick's position on the legality of carpooling happens to be correct, but as usual, he's blaming the wrong people. It's not the Western Standard that's got it wrong, it's the Ontario government.

Posted by: ebt | 2008-08-26 12:05:50 PM

If everyone switched to an electric car, guess what that would do to the price of electricity. I said "guess" because I'm no expert.

Posted by: glen | 2008-08-26 12:51:48 PM

My understanding is that most of our electricity is coal generated at this time. How does increasing the burning of coal help our environment? Just a thought...

Posted by: JC | 2008-08-26 1:39:53 PM

Sounds more to me like unnecessary regulation and environmentalism are clashing, not environmentalism and capitalism - those have gotten along pretty well.

Posted by: James | 2008-12-07 1:42:52 PM

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