Urbanhitchhiker.com wants to make the old symbol of freedom the new symbol of responsible urbanites
Are you tired of the long wait in morning rush-hour traffic? Would you like to save money on gas, while saving the planet? Look no farther than your personal computer; a new website promises to help you do just that.
Urbanhitchhiker.com is a free, nationwide carpool-matching service. The site, which launched on October 15, is based in Dallas, but can be used anywhere in the United States. Although there isn’t a large group of users in the San Antonio area yet, most of urbanhitchhiker’s clientele are in Texas, with a growing number in the San Francisco area as well. The site is still very small and not all geographic areas have users yet, says Marketing Director Alexis Patterson, who co-founded the service with her boyfriend, Stephen Watters. “Right now it’s just us (working on the site), so we wear a lot of hats,” says Patterson, who is in charge of graphic design, copy, marketing, and ad sales. Watters programs the site and handles the business end.
|(Photo illustration by Julie Barnett)|
“Carpooling is an effective way to alleviate high gas costs, traffic, and air pollution,” Patterson says, but urbanhitchhiker’s origins were humble. She jokes that the concept was developed over beer and pizza. “Seriously though, back in early July, Stephen’s car was broken. I spent a lot of time sitting in traffic, looking longingly at the car-pool lane and thought about how I wished I knew people that worked near me.” Throw in the rising cost of fuel and urbanhitchiker was born.
Patterson admits that while she has carpooled with friends and co-workers, she has never hitchhiked. “The reason I’ve never hitchhiked or carpooled with someone from a ride-share board is because it doesn’t feel safe,” she says. “This is why urbanhitchhiker.com is designed the way it is, to break down the barriers that prevent people from carpooling.”
Once new users have registered on the site, they can enter planned trips in the section titled “My Trips,” where they also can search for other users planning similar trips through a simple icon-based menu. Registered users can send an unlimited number of messages through the site.
“Exact addresses are never revealed, and neither are real e-mail addresses,” says Patterson. “The only personal information that is available for public display is what the user chooses to enter into the comment box.” She encourages users to contact potential rides through the messaging board to protect their personal information.
Patterson says one user has contacted her with concerns about the safety of the site. “We explained the measures we take to safeguard their personal information,” Patterson says. “We encourage our users to meet in neutral, public locations and to never get into a car with someone they don’t feel comfortable with.” The site recommends that new ride-share partners get to know one another over coffee or lunch before hitting the road, and cross-country trips should include a backup plan, such as buses, trains, or planes, in case the chemistry is short-lived.
| Cross-country trips should
include a backup plan,
such as buses, trains,
or planes, in case the
chemistry is short-lived.
The mapping technology used for the site is relatively new, Patterson says. “We had a lot of bugs to work out with it to get it where we wanted.” She and Watters are developing more features that they plan to add to the site early next year. Because they work full-time, Patterson and Watters work on the site in their free time, which includes posting fliers at college campuses and publicizing the service through a Myspace account. “Since it’s just Stephen and I doing this on a very limited budget, we do what we can, when we can, and hope word of mouth will do the rest,” says Patterson.
The immediate benefit of carpooling is that it saves money, and wear and tear on your car, Patterson says. In the frequently asked questions section of the website, Urbanhitchhiker suggests offering half the cost of gas for a trip, but the site notes that prices are negotiable. More abstract benefits include the ability to use car-pool lanes, and over time, reducing traffic and air pollution.
Urbanhitchhiker.com is available nationwide and is free to use. There are similar sites, but they often have limitations. Rideshareonline.com is limited to the Washington-state area, and carpoolworld.com charges users a monthly fee to start a car-pool group.
Peter Aguayo, a San Antonio College sophmore, says he used to carpool to school with friends. “I think this website would be awesome,” he says. “The only drawback is that if only one person has a car, and it’s the same person going the same way all the time, then the person who is sharing their ride seems to lose out on the deal. I wouldn’t want to be the only one driving all the time. I would want someone to drive me back and forth once in a while.” •
By Chris Perez