In 2012, Jenny O'Brien, frustrated at the lack of transportation options in her rural area, decided to conduct an experiment to use hitchhiking as the basis of a community ridesharing service.
The research project, called Lawrence OnBoard, sent out volunteer riders with folding dry-erase boards to locations in and around the town of Lawrence, Kansas. Riders wrote their destination on the boards, held them up and waited for a passing driver to stop. These first riders were astonishingly successful, reporting average wait times of under seven minutes. O'Brien published the early findings in the Transportation Research Board Record.
In May of 2014, O'Brien teamed up with Carma Technology to launch a pilot. They called the project CarmaHop and built a smartphone app using the Carma Carpooling APIs. The app made a record of the rider's start and end locations and included a map of roadsides in the area where riders could easily get rides. The app also allowed users to welcome newcomers, and gave a running total of rides taken. Riders were encouraged to ask drivers for a phone number to enter in the app, and drivers who did so could win a $20 gas card.
Because Lawrence, Kansas has an ordinance restricting hitchhiking, O'Brien worked with city officials to pass an exemption allowing the pilot to move forward. CarmaHop officially launched on October 22, 2014. By March, over 50 riders had downloaded the app and requested ride boards. The boards, made from brushed aluminum, included the logo, an ID badge and a dry-erase marker that attached to the back of the board with a velcro strip. 45% of registered riders took a first ride.
Many of the supporters of the project volunteered to act as a driver. Although there was no way to arrange rides ahead of time, these drivers could indicate their participation by placing a window cling on the inside surface of their windshield. Some media stories and social media helped spread the word.
Carma's support for the project officially ended on February 28, 2015. Anyone who is interested in trying roadside ridesharing for themselves can contact Jenny O'Brien and request a ride board. In the interests of safety, I have collected some helpful resources--maps, laws by state, and helpful tips.
See you on the road!
Check out the Lawrence OnBoard/CarmaHop blog and follow along on our journey.