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Auto insurance for the ride-sharing world

So when gravel-voiced Jason Stratham is gunning his engine at a ridiculous 200 miles an hour to get that girl in his trunk to some point in Europe… do you think he’s got coverage? Because more and more people are working as casual transporters through websites and apps like uShip and Uber, and very few of them are properly insured.

From the consumer’s perspective, of course, it’s hard to beat a ride on UberX from say, Toronto’s Yonge and Bloor down to Harbourfront for about ten bucks. The downside to that saving, though, is the fact that you have no clue who your driver is or whether they’re even insured to take paying passengers. They’re kind of like the hobby farmer version of a chauffeur or tugboat captain: weekend warriors of the road… for hire. And when filling out auto insurance forms, the transporters who do admit this is their gig will be classified as operating a commercial vehicle, which, duh, means they’ll have to pay higher premiums. If you’re only on UberX—or Lyft or Sidecar or any other ridesharing service—to make extra money on the weekend, coming clean to your insurer might not seem worth it.

“As far as regulations exist, you either have a commercial vehicle [or a private passenger vehicle],” says IBC’s director of consumer and industry relations, Pete Karageorgos.

But in the U.S., some insurers have started to offer coverage geared to rideshare drivers. Metromile of San Francisco partnered with Uber in January to provide insurance to casual drivers, and it’s got a nifty little onboard diagnostic board that can tell the difference between the miles driven for Uber (say, if you’re Jason, again, hightailing it down the roads of Monaco or Bruges with guns firing in your rear-view mirror) and for personal purposes (say, like Jason picking up a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon from Tesco’s in Bromley for a romantic denouement… with guns firing in your rear-view mirror).

When on the job, drivers are included in Uber’s $1 million primary commercial auto liability coverage, and insurance switches to Metromile’s pay-per-mile policy once a passenger leaves the car.

In February, GEICO released a ridesharing product that covers personal and commercial coverage on all ridesharing platforms. It “will offer the product… at a price significantly lower than taxi and commercial rates,” the company explained in a statement.

Unfortunately for Canadians, GEICO’s ridesharing coverage is only available in Virginia, and Metromile’s product in California, Illinois and Washington. The cheerful lizard with the British accent never got back to us when we looked for a comment, but given that Berkshire Hathaway, which owns his tail, is moving into the Canadian market, perhaps there’s a chance their product could be offered here down the line.

And Karageorgos has hope. “In the U.S., insurers are willing to do what they need to do to get business. So if there’s a market and [Canadian insurers] can create a product to meet that market, I’m sure it’ll happen.”

Casual transporters aren’t restricted to the ridesharing industry. The online marketplace uShip, that connects truckers with people who need things moved, deals with a broad range of carriers. Dean Jutilla, vice-president of marketing communications, says the company “definitely” encourages transporters to get insurance and stay on top of it, but—and it seems a big but—“as a thirdparty neutral marketplace, it’s not something we can require.”

Keep in mind that some transporters aren’t amateurs. They have their pro status, and uShip encourages fully licensed American truckers to pick up loads; carrier-monitoring company SaferWatch identifies them with a badge on uShip’s website.

But people looking for rock-bottom deals will likely have better luck with the guy who has extra room in his van. And “if you’re kind of an average Joe who is taking extra things for people to make some extra income… you’re probably not going to go get your license just to haul someone’s extra stuff,” says Jutilla.

Americans using uShip get another nice break that we don’t get—they can buy Lloyd’s-backed cargo insurance when checking out on the uShip website, if their chosen transporter doesn’t carry sufficient coverage. Jutilla estimates 20 to 25 percent of shippers opt for that insurance.

So far, perhaps one of the best breaks Canadians are getting from uShip is the saga of the company’s loads on its own reality TV show, Shipping Wars. The IBC’s Pete Karageorgos is a fan.

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Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the March 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine