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Boston Carpooling 2.0

This article is more than 12 years old.

HOST: Call it Carpooling 2.0. Some Boston-area Internet entrepreneurs have found a business opportunity in the high price of gas. A brand new fleet of web startups is using social networks and other online technologies to make it easier for people to share rides. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports.

NICKISH: Every weekday, Anita Horn gets behind the wheel and drives to work.

HORN: Typically, I'm trying to get in around nine o'clock and trying to leave about 5:00. Which is rush hour. (LAUGH)

NICKISH: Another day, another drive down the backed up Jamaicaway into Boston, always alone. Lately it's gotten to be more of a drag, thanks to gas prices. Horn also feels bad about the carbon dioxide her sedan is pushing out of its tailpipe. She'd really rather carpool and split the impact of both.

HORN: That's a big jump, just right there, taking one person. And having one person in your car and having to deal with one other person's schedule is really not that bad.

NICKISH: So Horn signed up on a web site looking for someone to share her commute. There have always been online bulletin boards, but now in Cambridge, and other new startups, are leveraging the latest Internet technologies to make even the smallest carpool connections.

CHASE: We can be thinking about our travel in more clever and serendipitous ways.

NICKISH: That's Robin Chase, founder of GoLoco.

CHASE: Think of when you go to the grocery store and you bump into your neighbor, and you think, how fun, how great, you're doing a little bit of gossip, thinking, it's so surprising to see you here. When in fact that kind of serendipity could be happening not by serendipity but by plan.

NICKISH: Here's how it works. Say you're a driver. You post online where you're heading, and when. You also give details like what you listen to in the car and what you want for reimbursement.

Riders go online and check out an interactive map. If they want to join your route, you get an e-mail. Or they can place their own posting looking for a ride.

Afterwards, each person can rate the other, helping other users get a better idea of what to expect. If you asked for money, and some people don't, the rider pays through an online account.

CEO Robin Chase says drivers are cool with the ten percent commission GoLoco charges, because overall the service can really save them.

CHASE: The total car cost, not just the gas cost, it really realigns when and why you're willing to drive.

NICKISH: But not necessarily with whom, yet. Rachel Happe works for IDC Research in Framingham, and she's an expert on social networks.

HAPPE: They succeed best with a passionate audience. People aren't passionate about gas.

NICKISH: At least not enough, she says, to sign up for a new service in droves, to really get online ridesharing firing on all cylinders.

HAPPE: There's so much complexity in routes, that you have to have a huge group of passionate people, to really satisfy all the different demands that are out there.

NICKISH: And even then, there will inevitably be the same old carpool hassles, when someone flakes or has a last minute emergency and can't go. But the higher the price of gas climbs, the more people will be willing to put up with the occasional problem. These new web sites make it easier for those people to find each other and share a ride.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on July 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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