Q7. Some ride-sharing apps can match passengers and drivers who wish to travel on the same route at the same time. Can a private car owner ride someone else who will reimburse him a small sum for the fuel cost and toll fee? What is the potential risk to the car owner (usually the driver) and the passengers?
Can a private car owner take on a passenger who will reimburse him a small sum for the fuel cost and toll fee?
Under Section 52(3)(b)(iii) of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374), no person shall drive or use a motor vehicle for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward unless a hire car permit is in force in respect of the vehicle.
However, in HKSAR v Yuong Ho Cheung & Ors  HKCFA 29, it was held that :
“48. The hire or reward arrangement envisaged in s.52(3) is a business one. In this context, it is useful to refer to the House of Lords’ decision in Albert v Motor Insurers’ Bureau. Although the issue in that case concerned whether a particular arrangement was carriage that required the driver to have compulsory third party insurance, the ratio of the decision was that “‘a vehicle in which passengers are carried for hire or reward’ meant a vehicle used for the systematic carrying of passengers for reward, not necessarily on a contractual basis, going beyond the bounds of mere social kindness and amounting to a business activity”. The point is perhaps most helpfully expressed by Lord Pearson in his speech where he said:
“One cannot fail to observe that a private motor car has passenger seats. The owner-driver of a private motor car can very easily be helpful and obliging to friends and acquaintances by giving them lifts in his car. He may himself like to have company on his journeys, but still he is conferring a favour. The passengers may, especially when this happens frequently, think it fitting that they should in return for the favour confer some benefit on the owner-driver. Many co-operative or reciprocal arrangements, which are natural uses of a private motor car, were suggested in the course of the argument. For instance, A and B may for their weekly game of golf travel to the golf course in A’s car driven by A, and B make his contribution by paying for A’s lunch or green fee or for the petrol that is bought on the journey. Mothers of children going to the same school may take turns at driving the children to and from the school. A party of men living in the same village and going to work in a city may take turns at driving the party in their respective cars. So long as such arrangements do not acquire the character of business arrangements they should be regarded as natural ways of using a private car as such and should not be regarded as involving the carriage of passengers for hire or reward.”
Thus, whether ride-sharing apps matching passengers and drivers wishing to travel on the same route but the passengers only need to reimburse the drivers for fuel cost and toll fee would be permissible depends on whether the whole arrangement amounts to business activity and there is a systematic carrying of passengers for reward (but not necessarily need to be on a contractual basis), going beyond the bounds of mere social kindness.
Therefore, it is likely that ridesharing is not a business. The ride-sharer only shares the cost, e.g. fuel cost, toll fee, with other passengers. There is no profit gain on the part of the car driver, but only cost being shared. And obviously ridesharing is not systematic way to make a business profit.
What is the potential risk to the car owner (usually the driver) and the passengers?
So long as the car owner has purchased a third party insurance and that the driver is not making a business profit, there is no risk for car owner to share the ride.
There is no risk for the passengers sharing the ride.