Citizen Researcher Bob, pictured here with his wife, was the oldest of the crew of test riders for the Lawrence OnBoard first research ride day. Bob has real world hitchhiking experience, and was very calm and confident before setting out. (Or, perhaps he was just in a stupor from all the muffins and coffee and lengthy training session.) Bob was assigned to the Wellman Road and 3rd Street stop in Jefferson County. He waited about seven minutes, with 2 cars passing him by before a driver stopped to pick him up. The driver was someone familiar to him and he “had a nice chat with some folks that I’ve seen around town for years … and they drove me right here.. and I lived to tell of it.” It doesn’t surprise me that Bob recognized these ladies. Bob is a long time resident of Lawrence and knows a lot of people. Still, chance meetings like this are what makes car surfing so much fun.
Seth was the second rider to return to the command center. Seth is a lively young person who currently does not own a car, so he was very excited to help out with this project. Seth was assigned to Wellman and 13th Street. He let one car go by while he put some stuff in a pack, but then held up his board and SHAZAM! got a ride with the very next car. The driver was a fellow who had his wife and little daughter in the car. Perhaps he needed a little time to think about whether to pick up Seth, since he went down the road a bit, then circled around and came back. They also had a little wiener dog in the car who was a little dubious, but they all made it safe and sound into town. “Yeah, it was really cool.” reported Seth on his arrival back at the command center. This first ride research day answered a number of important questions for me. The first was; “Will other people have as easy a time getting rides as I seem to have?” To control for some of the variables, I scouted out the locations ahead of time. I picked spots with a long line of sight, a handy place to pull over, and an average car count of 1-3 per minute. All the spots were on a road where most of the cars going in the right direction would be heading to Lawrence. All were in rural locations without bus service. The Wellman road is the road I have used the most, and have logged over a dozen rides on it, so I figured it would be a good test road. Sure enough, Bob and Seth had no problem getting rides from their two locations. Almost all the other riders were equally successful at getting someone to pick them up, as you will see in later posts.”How did the technology work?” was the second question I needed to answer. All the riders reported that the whiteboards worked just fine. A couple of the riders reported that the driver picked them up because the signage looked so “legit”. Some design improvements were suggested, such as 1) round the corners 2) make them fold up smaller and 3) use a colorant in the board to avoid the spray paint (I totally agree!) Generation 2 white boards will be at least 83% more awesome.I am very unhappy and frustrated about one bit of technology. Fewer than half of the riders texted the license plate number to me during the ride. Most of the guys reported that they felt plenty safe with the driver (a good thing), so they thought the text was unnecessary. All riders reported that it was just dang awkward. I totally understand that, since I myself think it’s awkward, and I’m an experienced rider. So, I will have to put my thinking cap on. It’s important to keep the license plate texting as an option, but it should not interfere with a quick, safe and pleasant start to the ride. This rideshare program is all about human beings interacting in positive ways with each other. Pulling out a cell phone and being inattentive to the kind driver who just picked you up is not a good practice. If anyone has ideas, give me a shout.Next time: Connie, Huan and the Very Full Van, the Drivers Speak Up, and What Happened to Poor Jason.