Ridesharing can happen anywhere

  • Author: NCMM Staff
  • Date: February 4, 2014

Pedicab for possible shared rides on Central Park South in New York City.

All around you

Ridesharing can happen by asking a neighbor for a ride to go shopping, signing up on a website for a regular weekly commute, or standing on the side of the road. Often ridesharing takes place without any official program set up by a government or public system or even a private business that seeks to make money from people getting into a private vehicle together to go in the same direction, though that is happening as well.

So totally not hitchhiking anymore

Rideshare is an umbrella term used to refer to anything from vanpooling to hitchhiking and online app-based matching platforms. Because the term hitchhiking has such negative connotations, modern equivalent terms are employed for picking up someone on a road or in a parking lot without a previous relationship.  Slugging is another term for casual rideshare, generally by commuters and without prearrangement. Rideshare is also a term synonymous with carpooling, though carpooling generally refers to a regular arrangement, such as  commuting or taking children to after-school activities.


Kansas City, MO, spot where the Oregon and California trails met.

For mobility management professionals, the universe of different ways ridesharing is being orchestrated throughout the United States provides models for utilizing excess capacity in the transportation system - empty seats in a car - as a publicly available mobility option that has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, congestion, and even vehicle ownership, while increasing transportation options for those without a car, those who prefer not to drive, or those who are unable to drive.


Casual on craigslist

Ridesharing is often a person-to-person private arrangement. Look on craigslist websites for places across the country and you will see rideshare as one of the many categories listed. Craigslist has no security mechanism, yet people are using it to share rides. A quick perusal of a few of its rideshare pages in a few places indicates that people are accessing different types of rides from taxi-like service to long-distance rides to regular commuting arrangements. Though there is no sign up, insurance, or criminal background check process, I suspect that at least some users of these sites utilize social media, especially Facebook, to check out a potential driver or passenger before getting in a vehicle with a stranger.

Financial arrangements for a craiglist-arranged ride are left to the individuals involved. Some requests and ads do not mention money, while others mention a set price.


Taxis leaving Central Park in New York City.


Getting to know you on Facebook

Apps and websites allow for casual ridesharing with a little more of an investment in time and formality of payment. Paypal or other online payment system make possible prepayment for a ride and frees the driver and passenger from awkward conversations about fees or having the money ready at the time of the ride. And Facebook allows for a key ingredient - a sense of security for the passenger and the driver that the stranger is not too creepy to share the private space of a car or pickup cab with. An article from the San Jose Mercury News explains how these matchmaking systems work.

Kansas brings innovation

Jennifer O'Brien

Jennifer O'Brien of Lawrence OnBoard.

Something new being rolled out in Kansas and still in a pilot phase is Lawrence OnBoard, a roadside rideshare program that could be called "hitchhiking grows up." Riders sign up and receive a well-branded green board with a space for a handwritten destination. The potential rider waits on the side of the road and holds up the board. Wait times are better than for buses, an average of seven minutes per rider in a recent pilot of over 30 riders and 121 rides.  The program has been doing trials, in Lawrence, KA, home of the University of Kansas, and the surrounding rural area.

Click here for our podcast with Jennifer O'Brien, the organizer of Lawrence OnBoard. A transcript of the interview is available.

Michael Schneider came from Washington to try out Lawrence OnBoard. His average wait time was around 5 minutes!

The idea is for a rideshare program that does not use much or any public funds and which allows for a hitchhiking-like experience, only safer and more organized. A video of the creator, Jennifer O'Brien, explaining the program to a city commission is 13 minutes, but worthwhile. Future plans include a system for vetting riders and drivers and some kind of decal for drivers who register. Riders in the pilot program are people known to the volunteers involved. Lawrence OnBoard has a Facebook page and a website with a blog.

Rides via radio

One town in America has a radio station that helps to match riders and drivers. In Moab, Utah, KZMU, a solar-powered community radio station, hosts a rideboard webpage devoted to ridesharing and carpooling. According to program director Christy Williams, KZMU has volunteer DJs who play music, announce what is lost and found, and even announce on the air the rides requested. People can enter ride or carpool requests on the station's website or call in. Indeed, the ride board pre-dates the Internet.

Moab is a small town in a rural area near national parks and other beautiful scenery. The town attracts tourists, but is four hours from the nearest major airport.  Rides are requested for trips to the airport, to medical care, for carpool arrangements and for long-distance destinations. The ride board is most active during tourist season and during the holidays, though people use it to access it for all kinds of rides throughout the year.


Hay and dried grass alongside a road and train tracks out West.

Slugging - casual carpooling from the suburbs into the city

Slugging is a commuter option between suburban Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. It began after the 1970s oil embargo and gained steam when Virginia instituted fast lanes for vehicles with three or more persons. This is a popular option where transit is not as frequent and where single-occupancy driving is slow. There are slugging connecting spots and people indicate their destination. Total strangers get into cars with one another day after day.

My personal take on the success of slugging in the Washington, DC area (and in the San Francisco area) is that it works because (1) people have a sense of safety in numbers; (2) locations and times are predictable, giving drivers and riders a reliable system; (3) there has been a complete lack of horror stories of crime or bad driving; and (4) there is a financial or timing incentive for taking riders. Suburban Maryland, on the other side of Washington, has no tolls or high-occupancy lanes on the way into downtown and there is no slugging.

Lawrence OnBoard, Moab's KZMU and slugging in Washington, DC exemplify simplicity and customer-focused options without much or any public dollars or even businesses involved. They demonstrate that in a particular place something unusual can work. I suspect they produce some friendships along the way as well.

Carpooling by other means

Carpooling can be arranged in many places via websites and apps. Some are for employees of a particular company or organization, some are operated by a government entity, and some are for the general public and different kinds of ride destinations. Wikipedia has a good webpage devoted to carpool information and statistics. It discusses who is carpooling and where.

The Wikipedia page states that the 1970s was the high point of carpooling, with 20 percent of commuters sharing rides, in contrast to current estimates of 10 percent of mode share. What remains to be seen is whether the new generation of commuters who are reputed to prefer sharing over owning and technology over driving will take to carpooling in greater numbers than their parents.

Where can taxi-like rideshare work?

Moving Together in the 21st Century: How Ridesharing Supports Livable Communities is a report that contains examples of carshare and rideshare programs and ways to structure both. The report's success stories are mainly in places where for-profit vehicle sharing is supplemental to pedestrian and transit infrastructure. These vehicle sharing choices enable people to reduce or eliminate car ownership in those places where someone can primarily use modes other than private vehicles. The report is light on numbers and statistics, so there is no data on mode shift or reduced car ownership.

Uber and Lyft, two app companies that offer taxi-like carshare services, do operate in many cities that lack good pedestrian and transit infrastructure. However, we do not yet know whether these companies will be profitable and whether they will contribute to car-light or car-free lifestyles in places outside of a few transit-rich, pedestrian-friendly large cities. Thus far, these companies are being funded via private capital investments.


Bus stop for Atomic City Transit in New Mexico.


Zipcar and car2go are two carshare companies that have moved into the business of easy car rentals available in multiple places around cities. The former requires a round-trip back to the original parking spot, whereas the latter allows for one-way trips.

While the term carshare applies to these rental services and the term rideshare is used for Uber and Lyft, these two types of businesses are, respectively, new versions of long-established and profit-making business models of car rental and taxi enterprises. They are to be contrasted with sharing a ride - however arranged - where profit is not the incentive.

All of models of ridesharing create options for people to travel, whether on a one-time or routine basis, without using one's own vehicle. They can be non-profit, government run, for profit or completely casual. They can be applied in different places in different ways from the most congested city to a sparsely populated rural area.


We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

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