A carrier refers to an individual or organization that contracts to transport passengers or goods for a fee. The common law recognizes two types of carriers: common carriers and private carriers.
A private carrier, also called a contract carrier, is one that undertakes by special agreement, in a particular instance only, to transport persons or property from one place to another. A private carrier does not hold itself out as ready and willing to transport for the public, transports only by special agreement, and is not bound to serve every person who may apply. In contrast, a common carrier is one that holds itself out to the public as ready to carry for anyone who requests its services.
The test to distinguish a common carrier from a private carrier is whether the carrier serves all of the public alike. For example, the court in Doe v. Rockdale School District No. 84 addressed the issue of whether a school bus was a common carrier. In that case, the plaintiff was assaulted by another student as he was transported to school. The bus company was operating pursuant to a contract with the school district to transport special education students at an agreed upon rate and for an agreed upon period of time. The contract did not provide for the transportation of any additional passengers or cargo. The court found on appeal that the bus company was not a common carrier because it did not provide services to the general public. The court noted that the bus company neither advertised its services to the general public nor transported indiscriminately all members of the public who applied. The court also noted that the bus company provided a specific service to a specific group of people because it only transported special education students between home and school by specific agreement.
[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]