If you live in an urban area, chances are, you probably use mass transit and don’t even give it a second thought. But 45 percent of Americans don’t have the option of hopping on a train or bus to get somewhere since they have no access to public transportation, Jennifer O’Brien writes for Shareable.
The concepts of the citizen-taxi apps Lyft and Uber and the carpooling app Carma appealed to O’Brien, but since she lives in Lawrence, which is located rural northeast Kansas (instead of downtown San Francisco, where public transit options abound), there are not enough participants to make these services run smoothly. So she decided to create her own system — founding the nonprofit Lawrence OnBoard.
Inspired by a podcast she heard about how hitchhiking isn’t as dangerous as its reputation would have it, and that in many countries it’s the primary mode of transportation, she decided to give the concept a contemporary update. Using Lawrence OnBoard, people can sign up to be drivers (at no cost) or as riders for a monthly membership fee.
Each person receives a background check, a photo ID, and a dry erase board on which they write their destination to display while they stand by the road waiting for a fellow Lawrence OnBoard member or any other driver to give them a lift. Once the rider has been picked up, he or she logs the trip by texting the driver’s member number or license plate to Lawrence OnBoard; O’Brien believes this kind of tracking will help ensure safety. (Although she does caution people against using the ride-sharing service at night or when traveling with young children.)
Last year, O’Brien began field-testing her idea. She sent 23 volunteers out on 121 test rides and found that 95 percent of the time, they scored a lift in less than 30 minutes. Now, Lawrence OnBoard is working to find the best locations for ride-seekers to stand, ensuring that all ethnicities, ages, and genders have equal ease of finding a ride.
And so far, the local government approves of O’Brien’s plan. In fact, city commissioners approved changes to the traffic code this month to allow Lawrence OnBoard to continue legally.
O’Brien writes, “I personally used my dry erase board to commute to town for most of the summer and I found that it was safe, easy, and reliable and saved a lot of gas. But even better, I met more of my neighbors, learned what was happening in the neighborhood and even made a couple of business deals. Building community like this is the big strength of the sharing economy and it’s something we are sadly missing when we all drive alone.”