Sarah Nicholson, EDN
“Carpooling has always been a viable means of transportation,” says Paul J. Thompson, Account Manager at Zimride, “but it hasn’t always been very popular.”
What it lacks, he notes, is a critical mass of users. This is exactly what Zimride, a new social networking tool for ridesharing, aims to change.
By providing a platform that Thompson describes as a “virtual carpool bulletin board for the 21st century,” Zimride connects users in order to make carpooling an exciting and feasible option. In its partnerships with over 120 colleges and organizations, Zimride has now joined with Lane Community College to ease the commuter school’s tremendous transportation burden.
More than four years ago, Zimride’s two co-founders were moving separately towards the same goal of creating a rideshare network on two different sides of the country.
With a background in hotel management at Cornell University, co-founder John Zimmer was inspired by a course called “Green Cities,” and was interested in finding community solutions to environmental issues.
Co-founder Logan Green was busy on the opposite coast, where his background in transportation and web development had inspired him to start a car share program at UC Santa Barbara. Once the two linked up, ideas and energies were combined and Zimride was born.
Although it may appear that Zimride’s name is connected to co-founder Zimmer, the inspiration for its title came from elsewhere. While on a trip to Zimbabwe, Green was both inspired and frustrated by the efficiency of transportation in a third world country where technology is a far cry from what’s available here in the United States. Observing this phenomenon, Green was motivated to form a more efficient transportation system by using technology and social networking to link drivers together. Now, four years later, Zimride has zeroed in on college, university and corporate communities to create viable and convenient rideshare networks.
LCC’s use of Zimride was an idea initiated by Mario Parker Milligan, the school’s student body president, in response to the college’s growing student body, full parking lots and mile-long lineups at LCC’s exit off the I-5. Funds for Zimride come out of the Student Transportation Fee, which is currently a $27 fee paid by students each term.
Launched on September 22, the program already has 919 members with a total of 495 rides posted, which include one-time trips and regular commutes.
Currently administered by LCC’s Brian Kelly, Dean of the Division of Conference and Culinary Services, together with Helen Garrett, Executive Dean of Student Affairs, the adoption of Zimride has been well-received.
“Students think this is a great resource,” said Kelly. “They also enjoy the link to Facebook and the flexibility of the service.”
When I log onto my Zimride account, I can create a customized commute schedule for my trips to and from Lane, as well as any other trips I plan to take. I can identify whether I am a driver, passenger, or both, I can include a picture, car type, smoking preference and music preference, as well as link to my Facebook page.
Zimride then shows me my ride “matches,” posted by users who have matching commute times or similar locations, and allows me to search amongst the users to find a good fit. A map appears on the upper right portion of the screen, plotting out my route along with the starting and ending locations of the rides I am viewing. Zimride ensures user safety by protecting personal addresses, and lists starting points only as the nearest crossroad.
Zimride’s Paul Thompson usually handles accounts in other regions, but as an Oregon native and graduate of University of Oregon, he has a special interest in setting up the platforms at LCC and UO. The numbers so far have been positive feedback for the platform at Lane. In addition to the number of users and the number of rides posted, the average number of potential matches per ride is a real indicator of the “health of the platform,” as Thompson calls it. In general, Thompson says, Zimride shoots to have an average of five to 10 matches per post in the first six months. At Lane, there are an average of 37 matches per post, a good sign that Zimride can provide a long-term solution to transportation troubles at the commuter campus.
LCC’s Kelly is also excited about the success of the program.
“The interface is very well designed, intuitive and user-friendly.” Kelly’s hope is that more people will rideshare and use LTD so that LCC can avoid building more parking lots.
Thompson shared excitement about future prospects for Zimride, with exciting changes happening in the coming months.
After the initial successful launch of UO’s platform (which happened this week), the two platforms will be able to link through a trusted partnership to create a larger ride pool.
Zimride will also be offering a mobile offering in the near future, as well as other incremental changes that will help people find rides and ways to coordinate.
As word gets out and rideshare efforts grow, perhaps that “critical mass” will be reached to propel carpooling forward as an effective and sustainable means of transportation.