The term "ridesharing" or ridehailing, can be used to refer to a variety of activities related to sharing space in a vehicle but most commonly these terms reference services such as Uber and Lyft, digital platforms that arbitrate vehicle spaces as a form of ride service. These and similar platforms connect willing drivers with prospective passengers, matching demanded passenger destinations with ride availability and taking a share of each fare in payment. While at one point controversial, ridesharing platforms quickly have become all but ubiquitous in most major cities of the world due to their efficiency and ease of use.
Ridesharing Platforms and the Government of Canada
Governments have tended to be more slow to accept ridesharing services, with many municipal governments having initially prohibited ridesharing platforms due to their non-compliance with rules put into place to govern traditional taxi companies. With the gradual recognition of their distinctive enterprise, ridesharing platforms have over time gained widespread acceptance by government and have become an acceptable form of transportation for employees of the government of Canada for many years (since 2016?).
In 2018, the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) launched a pilot ridesharing option for its employees, specifically with Uber. This allows CSPS employees to use the Uber ride-hailing app not only to hail vehicles but also as a payment method, directly charging travel to the department. CSPS employees are able to use Uber to hail a ride and the details of the trip and bill are sent directly to CSPS financial services, who would then tally and analyze the patterns from the previous month, and pay Uber directly for the sum total of all departmental usage in the form of an invoice. From the perspective of a user, they are able to toggle their payment method from "Personal" to "Departmental" depending on the purpose of the trip, and require not additional work to expense this form of travel.
As part of the pilot approach, CSPS imposed restrictions on the permitted usage of Uber in order to minimize risk. This included the limitation of the app's usage to working hours (7h00-18h00), the limitation of the fare to under $50, and the staggered roll-out of the app functionality throughout the department. For fares falling outside of these perimeters, it was still possible to use rideshare services but the employee would need to pay for them and expense the cost in the same manner as for regular travel.
Gradually more departments followed in CSPS's lead by authorizing departmental ridesharing and also steadily lowered the restrictions associated with the apps functionality as it became clear that the risks of abuse are marginal, or at least, significantly less than with existing systems. At the time of writing in early 2020, half a dozen departments and agencies have some measure of departmental ridesharing with Transport Canada being the largest user, having several hundred users being permitted the full functionality of the app.
Advantages of Ridesharing for the GC
Ridesharing platforms offer benefits to users and the institutional GC alike. Ridesharing platforms offer greater convenience to users, more accessibility features for people with disabilities, the ability to schedule rides in advance and better plan out travel, share to location with teammates, reduce wait times for vehicles and to provide greater clarity in directions to drivers. Users are also able to leverage promotions from frequent usage across personal and departmental payment methods offering a perk somewhat akin to travel points, and similarly garner a higher quality of driver if they themselves maintain a high rating, with members of the Transport Canada pilot roll-out anecdotally noting a higher level of professionalism among drivers.
From an institutional standpoint, departmental ridehailing platforms are significantly less onerous on departmental finance departments, eliminating tasks that are time-intensive, costly and tedious while freeing up time for more complex or urgent job functions. Departmental ridehailing platforms offer much greater accountability, showing the exact route, time and cost per ride, and offering the availability to rapidly identify variations that might indicate misuse. Preliminary research from CSPS and Transport Canada suggested an overall cost-saving of roughly 40% compared to the medallion (taxi chit) system which is the default used in the government of Canada, which tends to cost more per ride while charging an administration fee on top of each fare.
Departmental ridesharing also offers greater opportunities for ongoing digital transformation and can permit new downstream functionalities once deployed. This is because departmental ridesharing takes a process whose information byproduct comes in the form of boxes of isolated and non-integrated paper slips about past trips and replaces it with a fully digital system which can offer insights about usage patterns and offer alternatives for future practices. For instance, this information can be used to inform future transit services, the availability of alternative modes of transportation (like bikes or scooters), opportunities for systematically reducing the GC's carbon footprint and costs, or even inform real-property considerations over time. Digital transformation and departmental ridehailing are in essence complimentary endeavours.
There are several competing ridesharing services, of which Uber is the largest, however Uber's early adoption as a platform for ridesharing in the GC is for reasons of capacity. In Ottawa, Uber has traditional been the sole service platform with a fully developed and tested corporate service offering. Lyft has hoped to launch an equivalent service by 2020 and local taxi companies are developing their own ridehailing apps as well which are ultimately hoped to have a corporate service option as well. Thus while it can be expected that there will be a multiplicity of platforms available to public servants in the future, Uber had initially started as the default platform for so many departments due to a lack of viable alternatives.
Departmental Ridesharing "How to" Guide
The feasibility of departmental ridesharing is subject to much of the same kinds of departmental lore that tend to afflict many new initiatives. As a core premise it should be stated clearly and unequivocally that there are no rules, procedures, policies, guidelines, regulations, statues or other form of restrictions which prevent GC entities from adopting departmental ridesharing. The relative lack of these services is due solely to force of habit and their relative novelty as a service. This does not in turn make further adoption a clear-cut case as changing processes takes time and patience, however with transformation occurring ever more rapidly and ridehailing having been commonplace in most jurisdictions for over a decade, the case for departmental ridesharing offerings is a strong one.
Deploying Departmental Ridesharing in your organization!
With it widely known that a growing number of departments are adopting departmental ridesharing, much of the inertial resistance to departmental ridesharing is dissipating with the understanding that it is an improvement has been already been de-risked elsewhere. For those with lingering concerns, pilot programs can be a successful gambit for getting a foot in the door without taking on a prohibitive amount of risk. A pilot with a pre-defined user group will limit risk even more while also helping to give departmental finance teams the opportunity to get accustomed to the new interface and capabilities that come with a departmental ridesharing system. With the increasing data richness that comes with departmental ridesharing, it is possible to clearly evaluate the results of the pilot and compare against control groups.
Successful pilots will continue to expand the authorized user group until ultimately all the individuals in the department are authorized to use ride sharing, should they choose to do so. For those with ongoing concerns after a first pilot, it can help to suggest that new users be selected through a snowballing process or are to be included on request. Calls for the user group to solely composed of managers should be resisted because it limits the diversity of the user group and potential trip types captured in a pilot, making the data less useful for a future evaluation and decision. Wherever possible, user groups and pilots should be designed to include all those who are likely to use local transportation services.
Successful deployments to date have been marked with several key criteria:
1) High level policy cover: often, although not necessarily from the departmental CIO. In successful cases, policy cover has come from CIOs, ADMs and DGs with an appetite for experimentation and improvement.
2) Early Adopters: Departmental ridesharing need a group of early adoptors that are comfortable with ridesharing (or willing to learn!) and are willing to take the time to help others learn and test the system.
3) Support from Finance: The group whose work will be most directly effected by departmental ridesharing is corporate finance and so it is important to speak with these individuals early on. Finance also has the most to benefit.
4) User Guides: Hey! Its the GC: we love user guides. Making new user guides can be a laborious process and feel unnecessary for something like Uber, so I've done you a solid and included the TC user guide which can be plagiarized at will ;-D
A key tip for those looking to bring ride sharing to their department is to be persistent. Change is hard, especially for those that are comfortable with the status quo. Find your champion in senior management and then immediately start to work with finance. Corporate finance can be a good ally because departmental ridesharing goes a long way to lightening their workload, but they are also likely to end an initiative if they feel their core responsibilities are being effected without their input from the earliest inception. Otherwise, be prepared to hold a lot of hands with late adopters of ridesharing. Those who are unfamiliar with the system will often avoid using it in a work context so as not to have to admit ignorance, which is not as bad as those late adopters that condemn the system in order to have an excuse not to learn. These interactions can be trying but addressing them well will be some of the most important for a successful deployment.
Addressing Concerns about Ridesharing
There has been some ideological opposition in some quarters to ridesharing as a system, which affords freelance drivers less earnings per ride than taxi drivers. Some have argued that this in unfair for drivers and that the GC cannot be seen as supporting a system that pays drivers less. While especially common in the early days of ridesharing where taxi companies mounted a strong an concerted opposition to ridesharing platforms and lobbied to make the practice illegal, this line of argument less and less common as ridesharing has become more prevalent both in the GC and in wider society. This growing prevalence has come with a growing understanding of what it means to be a freelancing platform and how this is distinct from other traditional business models. There is also a strong impetus for government to obtain good value for money in its purchases, raising questions about the extent to which public servants should be expected to intentionally overpay for services.
The most important observation is that the adoption of departmental ridesharing is never accompanied by the exclusion or elimination of alternatives and no public servants will be required to take a rideshare versus any other form of transportation. Departmental ridesharing is about providing more options to the GC and empowering public servants with all the available tools in an effort to help them to do their best work. All departmental rideshare pilots to date have kept legacy systems available in parallel with the adoption of ridesharing as an option, and while some individuals continue to prefer other local transportation options and payment systems, there is a steadily growing enthusiasm for departmental ridesharing. It is also important to note that locking in to one system or another tends to stifle innovation and result in lower quality of service, so giving public servants more options will help to ensure that those options remain competitive.
Some mistakenly claim that ridesharing companies skip out on huge amounts of taxes, providing them an unfair advantage and making government use unthinkable, although this assertion generally stems from misunderstanding. This is because taxi companies have very expensive license plates that need to be paid for before being able to drive (often costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) while ridesharing companies do not have such expensive licensing. The devil is in the details however. In both cases, these licenses only represent a few hundred dollars in municipal taxes. When a license is sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, the money is given to the licenses' previous owner, not the municipal government, so while there is a larger amount of funds changing hands in taxi licenses than in ridesharing, the amount of taxes paid is the same. Drivers are obliged to pay the same income taxes regardless of whether they free lance for a digital platform or are employed by a tax company, and the ridehailing platform companies are also obliged to pay corporate taxes like any other company.
Frequently Asked Questions (add your own "Q"s if you have them and I'll get back to you with an "A"!)
Q) Can you use departmental ridesharing while on travel status?
A) No. While on travel status, all of your transportation purchases have to go through a third party. Its the deal the GC has struck. You can still use ridesharing, but you wil have to pay for it on your personal account and get reimbursed.
Q) Can you use ridesharing in Quebec?
A) Yep! Its a common misconception that you cannot use ridesharing in Quebec. For a long time la Ville de Gatineau specifically did not permit ridesharing but does today, although the pool of drivers is more limited which can make it more difficult to leave Gatineau than to arrive. Other cities in Quebec permit ridesharing services.
Q) Can I use ridesharing anywhere?
A) Yes and no. It is possible to use nearly everywhere from a technical standpoint and there are no authorizations from the GC limiting its use outside of the NCR. However, since departmental ridesharing may not be used while on travel status, that limits the user to their local region. In other words, you may use departmental ridesharing in your local region, wherever that may be.
Q) What if I accidentally use my departmental ridesharing payment method when I meant to take a personal trip?
A) No problem, just select the trip and change the payment method.
Q) If my app is authorized for departmental ridesharing, does that mean my employer have access to information about my personal trips on that platform?
A) No, your employer only has access to information about trips which you have asked them to pay for. Personal trips remain your personal information.