I have worked in the travel industry for several years, including in management. I have written travel guides, mainly about western Canada.
Ridesharing as a Passenger
When it comes to ridesharing, there are two ways you can do it: you can either be a passenger that pays for a ride or you can be a driver that receives payment. Over the last few years, I have acquired a great deal of experience as a driver and a little bit of experience as a passenger. In this article, I plan to highlight two of the pitfalls of ridesharing in Canada that I have experienced as a passenger.
How to Participate in Ridesharing in Canada
Firstly, in Canada, you can participate in ridesharing through several venues. You can post ads or respond to them on websites like Kijiji or Craigslist. You can sign up for apps like Kangaride or Poparide. Lastly, you can rideshare simply by signing up for Facebook groups. Usually, these groups have a particular city in mind as a point of origin. For instance, if you wanted to travel out of Edmonton, then you would look for "Edmonton ridesharing" on Facebook.
The major benefit of ridesharing is that it has to be regarded as a form of budget travel that is safer than hitchhiking. The latter is fairly anonymous while ridesharing typically involves some sort of electronic transmission, whether SMS texts, in-site emails or messaging, or phone calls. Those things are much easier when it comes to tracing where a person went than where a thumb on the side of the road went.
Of course, you always want to be diligent when it comes to your safety. But I would think that compared to hitchhiking, ridesharing would be less attractive for people who are dangerous to others. The verifications involved and the recorded communications mitigate some of the anonymity that dangerous people prefer.
Cold Zones on the Canadian Prairies
But I've found, whether as a driver or as a passenger, that one of the negative aspects of ridesharing in Canada is that there are some really cold spots where it's hard to find a ride. In my experiences over the last three summers, these ice-cold spots have been on the Canadian prairies.
The distance between Calgary and Toronto is immense and includes Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, and a host of smaller destinations. Finding rides between these points can be very challenging at times. Perhaps, some of that can be attributed to Covid because of the decline in travel that has resulted from the pandemic. However, back in the summer of 2019, I experienced some cold spots on the prairies and that was before Covid hit the news as something to be afraid of.
That summer, I was unable to find anyone to share a ride from Saskatoon heading east, even though I was flexible for a six-day window. In the summer of 2020, the same thing happened. In the summer of 2021, I tried to go from Vancouver Island to Toronto using ridesharing for relocation but I ran into problems as soon as I wanted to head east of Calgary.
I was, in fact, able to get to Regina out of Calgary in late July of 2021 but I had to wait for five days to find a ride that was suitable. In Regina, I actually waited about three weeks to find a ride to Winnipeg.
This was not entirely due to a lack of rides but also had something to do with my preferences (I don't just take any ride). However, coming out of points of origin like Vancouver or Kelowna was much easier. If something didn't match, then there were other options.
Heading east of Winnipeg has been no picnic either. I actually wanted to stay in the city for a few days to do some nature trails but that time frame has come and gone and I have not been able to find a ride east. As I write, I'm on my fourth day of waiting for a ride east out of Winnipeg and that has something to do with what I review in the next section.
Drivers With Unclear Plans
One major hiccup with ridesharing as a passenger is that so many drivers have unclear plans. They post an ad, you respond to it, and then a lot of the time you find out they don't really know what they are doing yet.
Actually, that happened several times while I was in either Winnipeg or Regina looking for a ride east. I had one driver cancel a confirmed booking and another claim that her car broke down.
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Most recently, I was talking to a fellow who said he would take me from Winnipeg to Toronto in his car if I agreed to relieve him of some of the driving. The charge, he said, would only be $50, a very favorable price for the distance. However, when I sought to clarify the schedule he then said that he bumped into a problem and was delaying his departure. It's a common story.
Ridesharing can be cheaper than other forms of travel. However, drivers with unclear plans can effectively eliminate that cost-effectiveness. In my case, I've found that it has been hard to balance accommodation with ridesharing.
For the former, consider that it often pays to book multiple nights in the same accommodations. You can receive discounts and, besides those, you avoid the nuisance of having to change accommodations routinely. However, when the drivers that you are trying to plan around won't tell you whether they are leaving at 6 pm on Tuesday or that time on Wednesday, sometimes you don't know how many nights to reserve at your Airbnb or hotel.
If you book too many, then you might lose money on cancellation penalties if you need to leave early. If you don't book enough, the cheap price that was originally available might disappear when you go to extend.
Long-distance trips have been particularly difficult to plan. For instance, one driver said she would take me from Regina all the way to Quebec City. When I inquired as to the plans for overnighting, she said that she would sleep in her car and take me to a hotel.
Without having my own discretion over the hotel I would go to, I could easily pay several hundred dollars more for accommodation on the three-night trip than what I would normally pay. I knew that her plan might eliminate the benefit of using ridesharing to save money precisely because the accommodation expenses would inflate.
Travel Advice for Future Ridesharers in Canada
If I was to live the last month over again, then I would just have booked a VIA Rail ticket from Edmonton to Toronto. You can actually sleep in your seat on the train. I can't say it's good for you but, for me, it would be better than a driver sticking me with a $200 hotel room because that's the hotel he/she picked for me.
Ridesharing in Canada is effective and smooth enough in between Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and the points therein, but it's slow-going on the prairies for sure. I expect it to be smooth around Toronto, Montreal, and the major cities of the east as well.
Consider Hot Spots and the VIA Rail
Being in a hot spot is important because when you bump into a driver that has no consideration for you as a passenger, then at least there are other drivers to choose from. But when a driver cancels on you while you are in Regina, for example, it really might mean that you are stuck in the small and somewhat boring city for several more days than what you want.
I certainly would not go so far as to say that getting across Canada can't be done using ridesharing. However, you may need to take whatever ride you are offered instead of selecting one that suits you in order to deal with the cold spots. My recommendation is to think about what you might be losing when it comes to accommodations. With this consideration, getting across the Canadian prairies using VIA Rail might be a much better option for you.
Cancellations Without Penalties
As I write, I have a reservation for Winnipeg to Toronto using VIA Rail. My ticket class allows cancellations without penalty.
If a driver is on the spot and going from Winnipeg to Toronto for $100 or less, then I would take that ride and cancel my train ticket when I'm seated in his car and heading east out of town. Otherwise, $245 for the train ticket sounds a lot smarter, especially since the train will serve as a hotel for two nights.
The drivers that didn't give me a straight answer when I simply asked where both the pick-up point and time were, effectively served as a bad advertisement for the whole ridesharing industry as a passenger. As a driver, I know how not to act myself but I can't say that I needed the lesson in the first place.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Shane Lambert