Long-distance ridesharing; another threat to intercity buses?

First things first, I need to tackle the elephant in the room…err, blog. 2 months since the last post! That’s insane and for any regular readers (please God, we do have regular readers right?) I humbly apologize. Things heated up over the last little while with Scarborough Transit Action, as our fight against the useless Scarborough Subway kicked into high gear. Also, I jetted off to BC for a friend’s wedding, hoping to experience some beautiful mountain scenery, only to be greeted with the province’s summer of forest fires.

Clearly, I’ve made it out of the hot zone alive and it’s time to get back to posting. Shaun is busy saving the world as usual and has a lot of writing to do as well. Hopefully, we can keep you informed and entertained over these chilly fall days…..or so mad about the state of public transport that you rip up your fancy sweater in rage. Take your pick.

Over the past week, I’ve been writing a piece for a Toronto based online publication about how Uber and other ridesharing (eg, taxis but with underpaid gig workers) companies cannot replace urban public transit, for a variety of reasons relating to geography and how service networks work together. I might be visiting Ottawa in late November/early December and am in the process of trying to nail down which days to take off work. A colleague overheard me asking my manager about this and enthusiastically recommended taking a rideshare there, instead of my usual plan of the train or bus. Since I already have ridesharing on the mind, I did some quick Googling to see how extensive the longer distance ridesharing business is in Ontario, in comparison with it’s better known urban cousin.

ridesharing tor-ott

At first glance, I noticed a number of informal ridesharing options organized through Kijiji and Craigslist along with a few websites: Kangaride, Ridesharing.com, and Carpoolworld.com, among others. The websites act as aggregators, where individuals traveling between two destinations can offer seats in their car for prospective travelers. According to Blog TO, some people also carry multiple passengers in vans outfitted as minibuses. Thus far, I was unable to come across any more formal rideshare operators (like Uber at. al) currently in Ontario by a simple Google search. In addition to these, there are carpools loosely organized by student unions at Western, Waterloo, Queen’s and other Southern Ontario universities that also function as rideshares: EG. someone can be a passenger in addition to sharing the driving.

As someone interested in public transport in this province, these informal rideshares are interesting to me. The student-oriented ones from Queen’s etc seem easy to explain; students seem willing to put up with the relative discomfort of sharing a car or van with strangers to save money. Similarly, other rideshares advertised on the internet might be attractive to anyone not willing to drive themselves and not able to shell out for more expensive types of public transit.

But wait…..in my casual browsing, I was able to find rideshares for around $30; which, while cheaper than the VIA, if not necessarily as fast, it’s similar in cost to taking the Megabus to Kingston. So what would make someone choose the first option over the bus?

I admit to mixed feelings about the rideshares. Instead of driving alone, people are opting to have a few other passengers, defray the cost of gas and it’s certainly better for the environment to have many passengers in the car. Still, I’d say that ridesharing comes with many of the same negatives that drive out of single car use. More specifically, demand for parking at the end destination, crowding vehicles at popular pickup locations such as universities and just a general continuation of the idea that cars are the way that “normal” people travel.

What accounts for the bus, with often an equally cheap price, losing out in competition with the rideshares? Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you might be able to predict the list coming up. For too long, our bus companies have left riders waiting in poorly maintained terminals, where they are lucky enough to have a terminal. For everyone else, it’s a variety store or the side of the road for them. Also, as the public sector does not provide support (either subsidy to existing bus companies, or the operation of its own competitor) to ensure routes are not canceled or frequencies reduced. Meanwhile, abundant parking and car-centric land use zoning leave many people unable to reach bus terminals or simply used to driving and being driven everywhere, leaving bus travel as some sort of unknown territory.

This whole project of ours has spent a lot of time calling out the public sector, popular attitudes, and the bus companies themselves for the dismal state of our intercity public transit. The fact that so many of these rideshares exist may not be a completely negative thing, given that at least passengers or co-drivers aren’t driving alone. Still, we think that buses and trains (but not only trains!) are the best way to move large numbers of people and shrink our reliance on the auto system. Maybe you think differently? You just love rideshares and would never get caught dead on a bus? We love a strong debate, so go ahead and make yourself heard

Maybe you think differently? You just love rideshares and would never get caught dead on a bus? We love a strong debate, so go ahead and make yourself heard.





4 thoughts on “Long-distance ridesharing; another threat to intercity buses?

  1. @Vince: Thanks for posting.

    With my slow move to Montreal, I have been (a) regularly “traveling the 401” and (b) establishing new travel habits. As it turns out, rideshares have been a notable part of both of these. From these experiences, I can contribute the following comparison:
    1) Cost: advantage rideshare.
    2) Reliability: advantage bus/train.
    3) Comfort: depends upon your values and priorities.
    4) Scheduling: toss-up.
    5) Location convenience: depends, for travel between big cities, advantage rideshare.

    To that last point, I recently discovered the mediocrity of BOTH rideshare and buses on a trip I was trying to make between Montreal and Belleville. I put in an alert on rideshare platforms and waited for a few days, only to discover that apparently nobody offers rides between these locations. I then looked at the bus schedules to also learn that this origin-destination pair is basically disconnected. Of course, VIA serves both of these places, and sure enough, there were trains leaving about the times I needed them. The problem was the following: while I am usually pay about $40 to travel between Montreal and Toronto (540km), the one-way VIA ticket to Belleville (360km) was $80.

    I mention that last point for a specific reason: I had some hope that rideshares might bring services to places that are not otherwise well-connected. My own experiences are not supporting this possibility. Although I am pleased to have another option for inter-city travel that is different from “buy/rent a car!” rideshares are definitely not the solution to every problem.


  2. Thanks for this insight Shaun,

    I think the main problem with rideshares (not that dissimilar from the private sector bus companies actually) is that major city pairs are low hanging fruit but without a major change in land use or subsidy of some sort, places like Belleville are not attractive to serve. I would imagine car use is high there, especially since they dont have the high student population that boosts ridership on both buses and ridesharing to places like London. I remember downtown Belleville is fairly dense but the town is pretty much sprawly otherwise.

    VIA can run the service as a public agency but their high ticket prices continually drive away riders, at least among people I know.


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