My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) "picks up" on the debate over PickupPal, a ride sharing service that operates around the world. Trentway-Wagar, a Peterborough-based bus company, has raised questions about the legality of the service in Ontario. PickupPal has about 100,000 registered users worldwide (approximately 10,000 in Ontario alone) who use the Internet service to connect and identify possible ride sharing partners. The result is more carpools, less traffic congestion, and decreased emissions. Notwithstanding the benefits, Trentway-Wagar argues that the service violates the Ontario Public Vehicles Act because it allows drivers to collect money by offering strangers a ride. This is not the first time that the company has targeted ride sharing services. In 2000, it succeeded in stopping Allo-Stop, then Quebec's biggest ride sharing company, from operating in Ontario.
The PickupPal debate has thus far focused on an outdated provincial law (the government has promised to review the legislation) and the environmental impact of rules that appear to discourage ride sharing. Yet there is a bigger story here. The law has been rendered out of date because the Internet facilitates new modes of production and organization that enable thousands of people to connect, share, and work together in ways that were previously limited larger, well-organized, and well-funded companies. As scholars such as Yochai Benkler and Clay Shirky have persuasively argued, these modes of production provide great promise.