100 Rides, Lessons Learned: September 9, 2013

On Wednesday, September 4th, Lawrence OnBoard rider Jenny O’Brien took the 100th ride.  We have been collecting extensive data on all these rides, including location, time of day, weather, wait time, number of cars passing, age and gender of driver and about 8 other points as well.  Here are some interesting facts:


  • Average wait time: 7.2 minutes!!!
  • Total miles traveled: 454
  • Average number of cars passing before one stops: 17
  • Male drivers: 63%
  • Female drivers: 37%
  • Drivers who circled around for the rider: 35%
  • Drivers who were known to the rider: 21%

So, what have we learned so far in this first year of traveling the Lawrence OnBoard way?

1)  Getting a ride is astonishingly easy!  Apparently, many people have a deep wellspring of kindness, and if they are presented with an easy, low risk, low cost opportunity to help someone, they will.  An empty seat in a car is like too much zucchini in the garden.  If you don’t use it, it just goes to waste, so why not give it to someone who needs it.

2)  A good location is important.  We have identified 4 characteristics of a good location

  •  Good visibility- a long line of sight, or a stop sign or traffic light to slow the cars
  •  An easy and obvious place to pull over- broad shoulder, row of empty parking spaces, parking lot or wide road with light traffic
  •  Adequate flow of traffic with many cars heading to the rider’s destination
  •  A handy place down the road to turn around and come back for the rider.

Future research will focus on testing and mapping good locations.

3)  Security is not the major concern that we expected.  The short wait time, local nature of the program, and rides taken in daylight in well traveled areas make it very unlikely that a violent criminal will pick up a rider.  What we have experienced in our research are petty annoyances- loud music, smoking, messy cars, crowded seats etc.  Dangerous situations are more likely to be a result of malfunctioning seat belts or drivers talking on cell phones than evil intentions of the driver.  Nevertheless, we will include a chapter in the users handbook on identifying, avoiding and escaping dangerous situations.

All of these ideas and more are summed up in the research paper Lawrence OnBoard, Community Rideshare for a Small City which will hopefully be published next year.

Stay tuned for What Happens Next!  See ya on the road…

Weird Stuff on the Road: August 26, 2013

We are up to 94 rides logged, and I must say we have learned a lot about how to get around town with the rideboards.  The average wait time is hovering around 7 minutes, and  at some locations it’s under four minutes.  That sure beats waiting for the bus!

We’ve noticed lately that certain conditions on a road spell trouble for the rider.  Road construction is the bane of my existence, since drivers are way too busy looking for the proper lane to pay attention to the girl with the sign.  My theory is that a driver can only pay attention to one unusual or distracting thing at a time.  Here is my list of “weird stuff on the road” that make it harder for us to get rides:

  • Inadequate or ambiguous parking or place to pull over, especially for faster traffic
  • Bicyclists on the road, especially those in tight pants
  • Big scary farm equipment traveling at 15 mph
  • Animals too close to the road
  • Tailgaters- they intimidate the car ahead of them, and are in too big a hurry to pick up a rider
  • Drivers on cell phones- need I say more?
  • Roundabouts-these cause enough panic as it is.

So, how do I get the attention of these poor distracted drivers?  Well, wearing bright colors does seem to help.  I also look for a location downstream from a stoplight where folks can see me while they wait for the light to change.  Tempting as it may be to stand in the cool shade of yonder tree, I am so much more visible in the sunshine, so sunscreen in a must.

Of course, some vehicles are an automatic “no ride” when you see them approach.  Big trucks and commercial vehicles never stop.  Pickups pulling trailers never stop (a common sight in rural Jefferson County).  Pickups with two occupants don’t stop.  Old ladies in the country won’t stop, although old ladies in town will.

See you on the road!


A Fortunate Event: July 25, 2013

Last week was a big week for Lawrence OnBoard!  First KKFI Public Radio in Kansas City played the interview that Jenny O’Brien recorded with station manager Mike Murphy.  It was played at the end of the EcoRadio show Monday night at 6:30.

On Wednesday, Channel 6 news reporter and producer Ann Wilson dropped by the LOB office with videographer Steven Jones.  The previous week, Mr. Jones had seen Jenny on the street, trying to get a ride to the KU campus.  He stopped and said “I’m not going to KU, but you look like a story!”  Steve and Ann did a wonderful job, and citizen researcher Jason Hering agreed to help demo.  Steve filmed Jenny trying to get a ride on Tennessee street down to Checkers.  As luck would have it, Jenny’s friend Emily Hampton stopped by and picked her up.  She even made time for a short interview.  The two newsfolk finished up around 4 and had a feature story ready that evening at 6!

This week, Jenny and KU Professor Ann Dunning are finishing up a research paper to submit to the Transportation Research Board.  We hope they will accept it and perhaps even publish it.  The world needs to know that Roadside Ridesharing works!

The Guy with the Big Knife: July 5th, 2013

Goodness, but I do meet all sorts of people on this roadside ridesharing experiment!  I recently moved my studio to downtown Lawrence, so I have been car surfing my way to work and home again two or three days a week.  I must say that I’m collecting data at a ferocious rate.  Unfortunately, it’s impossible to quantify on a spreadsheet all the fascinating conversations I have with the strangers who pick me up.  So, here is a sampling of the chit-chat from the world of Lawrence OnBoard.

In the past two weeks, I got rides from 7 men and 5 women. On July 3rd, the deputy fire chief, from the Sarcoxie fire department picked me up and we talked about burn hazards.  That was the second time I got a ride from her.  A woman from the Czech republic and her 12 year old daughter picked me up outside the Community Mercantile and we talked about travel in post glasnost eastern Europe (lots of hitchhking).  A goldsmith from a local jewelry store gave me a ride out to Iowa street, and we chatted about fingers gone missing due to farming accidents. The owner of Blue Collar press gave me a ride into Lawrence, and we talked about two mutual friends. Yesterday I got a ride from a fellow who knew all the heavy metal cover bands in the Kansas City area.  I asked him what he was going to do for the 4th of July.  He said  “Drink some, smoke some and blow sh** up.”   I had conversations with drivers about community gardens, chickens, building materials, and naturally, tales of hitchhiking.

My most interesting driver was an electrical engineer who was also an amateur blacksmith.  He was amazed that I knew what a snath was, what a peening hammer does, and why an Austrian scythe is better than an American one.  This fellow, who also happens to work for some friends of mine, dropped me off just north of I-70.  As I was getting out of the car, he asked if he could show me a project he just finished.  My driver then proceeded to pull a giant knife from behind the front seat!  Granted, it was beautiful craftsmanship, and I made suitable noises of appreciation, but I was quite glad he waited until I was out of the car.

This morning I determined to start documenting my drivers.  I snapped a shot of this morning’s driver and his girlfriend  (with their permission).   I will be posting some of them on the Lawrence OnBoard Facebook page soon, so be sure you have “liked” that page.   Thanks again to all you lovely drivers out there.  See you on the road!


50 Rides and Research Findings: May 25, 2013

I can hardly believe it, but Lawrence OnBoard has logged 50 rides since September.  I have collected a lovely pile of data and now have a pretty good idea of how this Roadside Rideshare thing is working out.  Here are some of the findings so far.  This is just a quick sketch.  A more detailed report will be out later in the year.

The riders:  20 different riders have been testing out Lawrence OnBoard Roadside Rideshare.  Seven women and 13 men participated, ranging in age from 21 to 68.  They clipped on their ID badges, took their rideboards and went out into the world to catch rides with random strangers.  You can see the places where they got rides on the Lawrence OnBoard Crowdmap.  We have traveled a total distance of 238 miles. And…

The average wait time before a driver stopped was 8 minutes!

The drivers:  We collected basic data on the curious and helpful people who stopped to pick up the riders.  Average age was 41 years.  13 of them were women, 37 were men.  Most were single occupants, but several had passengers including small children.  39 of them were complete strangers, but 11 had some connection to the rider- an acquaintance, neighbor, friend, or someone who had heard of Lawrence OnBoard previously.  On several occasions, the driver and rider discovered they had a mutual friend, similar interests or other connection.

Surveys:  We gave the last 30 drivers paper questionnaires, and have received 8 back in the mail.  Those drivers reported that they felt safe and had a positive social interaction with the rider.  They also reported that they could read the rideboards pretty clearly.  Half the respondents liked the idea of a lottery ticket as an incentive (“makes it more fun”), but nobody was excited about a small cash payment.  The riders also filled out questionnaires after the rides.  Their consensus was that the rideboards worked really well, but the license plate texting was too much of a hassle.  A few of the riders were quite anxious at the beginning of the experience.  They worried mostly about being able to get a ride.  However, these same riders reported that it was “Easier than I thought it would be” and “Way more fun”.  There were some slightly awkward moments- seat belts that didn’t work, non-smokers getting into a car with a smoker, one driver who was a little put out because the rider “didn’t really need a ride”.  But for the most part, the experience was very positive.  Here is one response to the question “Was this experience what you expected it to be?  If not, what was surprising?”

It was great. I was surprised at how good I felt after returning to HQ. People seemed really sympathetic to the goals of the project and interested in what I was doing.


What next?  The next step is to continue the research.  I’m shooting for 100 rides by the end of the summer.  I will continue presenting the results of the research to the Lawrence community, and start looking into funding so we can get this project on the road!