A rideshare initiative in Halifax, that started with one Chinese student, has grown to include hundreds of users.
Yunming Yang, a student at Dalhousie University, launched the group in December. At the time, he was going back to China for a month and his girlfriend no longer had someone to drive her to classes.
“It is always hard to wait for the bus during the winter,” he said in an interview in Mandarin.
The bus ride from Yang’s apartment can take almost an hour, but it’s only 20 minutes by car.
At the beginning, Yang called on all Chinese residents who live in the same building. He said almost all the people he contacted responded and were willing to carpool with his girlfriend.
Chenyang Zhou, who lives in the same building, was one of the first drivers to respond.
“I think if you can help other Chinese in need that can be a good thing,” said Zhou.
Word about the carpool spread on WeChat, a social platform popular with the Chinese community. After about a month, the group grew to include 500 drivers and users in the Halifax region, which is the maximum number allowed for that group.
Jiahui Liang first used the rideshare when she needed to get to Lunenburg. She reached out to the group and, to her surprise, Yang helped her find a driver.
“I don’t know how I could get there without those people,” she said.
To join the WeChat group, users have to provide their address. Drivers need to note what kind of car and how many seats they have. When they need a drive, users send messages in the group to see if a car is available.
As the group grew in size, many passengers wanted to pay the drivers for helping them. They discussed a plan to pay $1 per kilometre.
“It is obviously not enough to compensate the gasoline fee, but our intention is to help other Chinese. If I drive to school myself, picking up others can be more environment-friendly,” said Yang.
According to the Halifax Regional Municipality, anyone taxiing people for payment, including a donation, needs a Vehicle for Hire licence and an Owner/Rooflight licence.
“It would be illegal if a person was using their own vehicle to drive people around and be charging them,” Victoria Martin, an HRM spokesperson, said in an email. However, the HRM didn’t say if there would be a penalty.
Yang said this isn’t a taxi service and most drivers do this for free. The whole point, he added, is for people to carpool.
“Most drivers in this group are students; they have their daily lives and do this when they think they can give a hand,” he said.
“The whole point is to help people. Donating is kind of a personal behaviour. I cannot really supervise every single one if there are drivers who accept a donation.”
As the creator of the group, Yang spends part of his day moderating content, asking for reviews and checking to see if any drivers are asking for more than $1/km.
Due to demand, the group has now become two groups with 600 active users. It includes not only Chinese students, but people in the larger Chinese community who work and live in Halifax.
“More people want to join in, but I don’t think I can manage a larger group right now,” Yang said.