New Name, New Look: June 5, 2014

I’m back from my trip to Ireland where I met with my brilliant teammates and hammered out a Power Up plan for the summer.  We are working toward putting all the elements in place for a soft launch at the end of September.  I already have a pared down version of the app loaded on my phone!

Even though the name Lawrence OnBoard is very close to my heart and makes me glow with civic pride whenever I say it, we all agreed that it needs a new name.  After all, this project is too awesome to limit to just one town.  Since the roadside ridesharing model will fit nicely with the successful Carma Carpool app, we wanted to use Carma in the name, but with something added that distinguishes it.  After much debate, head scratching and sleepless nights, we decided on Carma Hop.

Hop is fun and sassy.  It sounds like what it is: a spontaneous short trip.  Hop on in, gonna hop to work this morning.  We’re keeping the green color, but using the winged wheel logo.  The smarties at Carma even whipped together a pared down version of an app before I left for home.  It’s on my phone right now.

Once it’s up and running, anyone can download the app and create a user profile. We’ll have a map that shows good tested locations, and when you hop in a car, you just hit the “start trip” button.  A list of members pops up and you pick the person you’re riding with and that’s pretty much it.  When you are done, you hit “trip end”.  Your driver gets a small amount per mile to pay for gas, and you’ve made a new friend.  If the driver isn’t a member, you can enter some contact info, like phone or email.  The driver will get credit for the trip, and later gets a reminder to sign up.  We’re figuring out how to do all this with simple text messages as well.

Thanks a Lot, John Waters: June 6, 2014

I met John Waters in an elevator at the Lawrence Arts Center.  He was visiting as part of the William S. Burrroughs retrospective and had just given a lively and very raunchy talk.  I told him a little bit about the Lawrence OnBoard project and asked him to autograph one of my business cards.  Thanks for the autograph, John Waters.

Waters just published a book, Carsick, about his hitchhiking tour across America.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve heard several interviews, including one on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Even though the hitchhiking was a publicity stunt, Waters was very honest about the drivers who picked him up.  They were friendly, helpful and pretty much normal people.  That’s been my experience all along, backed up by numerous studies, so it’s nice to hear it echoed by a celebrity.  Thanks for affirming human nature, John Waters.

Of course he wouldn’t be John Waters if he didn’t put a kinky spin on the story.  The NPR interviewer asked if he was hoping for a hook-up:

“I was open to the idea. Everyone should be open to the idea of sex when they walk out of their house, I think. You don’t have to ever do it, but it makes life way more interesting if you fantasize and look at people and imagine their sex life and everything. I think that’s healthy. … I’m in that mindset as I walk out of the house every day.”

Unfortunately, I was listening to this interview on my way to test out a new location for Lawrence OnBoard- now Carma Hop.  While I held up my sign, I started thinking “Darn it, I hope nobody else heard that interview.  What if they think I’m looking for some action?  How embarrassing.”  Then, when a man in a panel van stopped and offered a ride, suddenly I felt a new and completely unwarranted level of alarm. “Did he hear that interview?  Is that what he thinks this is all about?”  Yeah, thanks a lot, John Waters.

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience getting in cars with strangers, so I hopped in anyway, and sure enough, the driver was gentlemanly and a good conversationalist.  He pumps over $100 in gas every week into his van and was excited about the idea of sharing rides, either through Roadside Ridesharing, or with the Carma Carpool app.

John Waters is 66 years old and saw the rise and fall of hitchhiking.  He still imagines it the same way many people do- a sketchy undertaking done only by serious adventurers and the desperate underclass of people who can’t afford a car.   But attitudes like his are not helpful if we want to change the conversation.  It’s imperative that we share our resources, especially our cars and the fuel that goes into them.  If a roadside approach is the best way to get there, then let’s embrace it and do all we can to make it safe, easy, reliable and maybe even a little bit boring.

My hope is that Waters’ adventure only serves to reinforce my point- that people are generally good, and asking for a ride is most likely to simply get you home.  A great outcome if you’re an ordinary commuter, but not so great if you’re a famous Hollywood director.  If Carsick helps spark a debate about our unthinking assumptions about riding with strangers, and that we need to start sharing rides, then I will say with sincerity and not a hint of sarcasm, “Thanks a lot, John Waters”.

Game Changer for Lawrence OnBoard: May 15, 2014

Game changing news for Lawrence OnBoard- we’ve teamed up with Carma!  

What is Carma?

“Carma Carpooling is the simple smartphone app that introduces you to nearby people who want to share rides. Drivers receive small payments from riders towards their costs, and riders get an affordable, fun new commute option. Carma helps you improve your local community by reducing the number of cars on our roads.”

I’ve been following this company since I started Lawrence OnBoard, and was really impressed by their work and their mission.  Their apps for iPhone and Android have already matched enough carpool rides to get to the moon.  (That’s right- the MOON!)  They have a savvy business model, loads of experience and a global reach.  

I met up with Carma founder, Sean O’Sullivan, at the TRB conference in January, and he thought our Roadside Ridesharing model would be a versatile, low-tech complement to the Carma app.  They want to develop the concept, implement it here in Lawrence, then take it-not just national, but global.  Now I’m getting ready to fly to Ireland, meet the team and hammer away at a a new plan to take Lawrence OnBoard and make it soar!

Leap of Faith: March 7, 2014

Lawrence OnBoard has been a little quiet this month.  That’s because I’ve been busy closing down my business of 18 years so I can devote all my time to this new amazing project. This is an enormous leap of faith, but so was the first time I stood by the roadside with my ride board, hoping somebody would pick me up, and we know how spectacularly that turned out!

A preacher-man staying at our house last month said that Jesus would probably include “drive the stranded” as a modern work of mercy right up there with “feed the hungry” and “heal the sick”.  He is a pastor in a small town in Nebraska, so he understands that  access to transportation is no longer a luxury, but is absolutely essential for full participation in modern life.  We expect people who barely scrape by on minimum wage to spend thousands every year to own and maintain a car just so they can get to work.  That is a heavy burden and  ties up money that could be spent on a better quality of life.  But if those same households had an option so they can go car free, or drive their cars less, that would free up a significant amount of household resources.  Something else that my preacher friend remarked on is that anyone can participate in Roadside Ridesharing as riders or drivers or both.  Giving a ride is an easy, cheap and safe opportunity to do real good for another human being.  We don’t get those opportunities very often, which is a shame since helping others makes us better people.

This month I will head to Newton, KS for the Big Rural Brainstorm where I plan to network with big thinkers from around the state about transportation issues.  In the meantime, keep an eye out for the latest issue of Greenability Magazine which features Yours Truly for the Greenability Challenge!  Thanks to editor Julie Koppen who made it happen.  Oh, and one more thing:  We got a shout-out on the Freakonomics Radio blog!