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Hitchin’ a ride: New trends in carpooling

Wayfinding and city signage
Hitchin' a ride: New trends in carpooling

According to most recent statistics, roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population travels by carpool each day. Carpooling, ridesharing and other similar programs that allow people to share private transportation have long been popular means for saving money and time as a commuter, especially in urban areas. Many cities have implemented formal programs because they’ve seen benefits, too—less congested roadways, lower emissions and a shift in the perceived quality of life for citizens.

These days, though, carpooling programs aren’t just about the carpool lane and rideshare boards hosted on a city’s website. Startups, social networks and mobile technology are working together to change the face of ridesharing as we know it. Consider the following trends in carpooling and how your city or state can embrace them today.

Social networking
The biggest change in carpooling since it was in its heyday in the 1970s has been how carpoolers find and offer rides. What started as word of mouth and bulletin board posts in the lobbies of office buildings and libraries has shifted to social networks.

Avego.com, GoLoco.org,nd Zimride are just a few of the startups that have launched in recent years that harness the power of the social graph to connect commuters with rides. A hybrid of carpooling, buses and online auctions,  these sites enable users to log on to a website, download mobile apps or connect via Facebook™ to see real-time results of people looking for rides or offering them, and most provide access to profiles to learn about other users. The result is a carpool program that’s fast, convenient and friendly.

“We embrace ridesharing as a social activity and Facebook provides a rich social context to connect and establish trust,” explain’s  Zimride’s website. “Zimriders can view profiles for common networks, interests and friends before deciding to share a ride.”

In addition to matching commuters and helping companies organize fleets, many of these services that work as mobile apps also offer GPS coordinated directions to drivers to pick up new passengers and calculate the cost of routes so everyone can chip in or employers can reimburse.

Alternative programs
Another trend in the traditional approach to carpooling in recent years is a little outside the box: Instead of sharing the ride, users are now sharing the mode of transportation itself. Car sharing services like Zipcar and iCar, along with bike rental programs like Minneapolis’s Nice Ride MN, offer fleets of vehicles available for short-term rental on demand. Users can pick up a car or a bike where the nearest one is available and then leave that transport at their destination for other users to pick up. Such programs might not mean that people are riding together, but it can mean that fewer people need privately owned transportation in urban areas.

Incentives
In addition to new technology and new thinking when it comes to carpooling, many cities are now offering incentives to citizens who choose to share their commutes. Lansing, Mich., Madison, Wis., and San Francisco are just a few of the many cities that now offer special parking rates and reserved spaces just for carpool drivers. Some of these cities also offer lots specifically designed for commuters to meet-up, park, and pick up and drop off conveniently.

Other cities, like Portland, offer tax breaks and other tax incentives to certain carpoolers and employers who encourage employees to carpool. Then, there are cities like Seattle that hold annual challenges for residents that offer the chance to win big-ticket prizes and gift certificates for driving less.

Getting the word out
Once your community decides to act on these new trends in carpooling, ensure success by spreading the word far and wide.

  • Make information about these programs easy to find—update a page on your city’s website and make sure this page is promoted front and center on the home page, too.
  • Create a grassroots campaign—get volunteers outfitted with T-Shirts, pens and clipboards complete with sign-up-for-more-information sheets.
  • Promote programs through social networks and consider creating a Twitter™ or Facebook™ account devoted to carpooling information. Try broadcasting stats about the growing program, available rides and more.
  • When launching these programs for the first time, offer incentives like tote bags, travel mugs or helmet reflectors to the first 200 people to sign up.
  • Consider holding a launch event to get everyone excited and be sure the press is involved. Provide fact sheets about local traffic, gas prices and other figures that may help illustrate the appeal of carpooling.

It may not be a new idea to cut costs and improve the quality of life by commuting with others, but the way we carpool is changing. Embrace these changes today in your city to offer more choices in transportation.

New York Times Interactive Feature. "Car-Pooling Declines as Driving Becomes Cheaper – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com." The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 28 Jan. 2011. Web. 18 July 2011.

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