I’ve been mooching rides for, well, my entire life. And I think I’m pretty good at it. But no matter how solid a reputation I’ve earned by chipping in with gas money, picking up the tab for snacks and offering scintillating conversation, I’m not going anywhere if I don’t know anyone headed my way.
That’s where Zimride comes in. The ride-sharing website, which added routes along the East Coast this week, is basically the modern-day version of that college bulletin board where students used to look for weekend travel partners. In fact, Zimride launched in 2007 as a college-only service — you needed the right .edu address to post trips or fill a seat. A year ago, Zimride graduated to using Facebook to let anyone pair up.
The concept’s gone gangbusters in California, where thousands of folks have packed into cars whizzing between L.A. and San Francisco. The company hopes to have similar luck between Washington and New York.
Given the number of low-cost buses — many with Wi-Fi — that travel up and down I-95, I’m not so sure people will be up for getting into the back of a stranger’s sedan. But John Zimmer, co-founder and COO, assures me that’s just because I haven’t experienced a Zimride. “This is on par or cheaper than any alternative, and it’s more pleasant,” says Zimmer, who’s used the service and made pals and learned travel tips along the way.
And Zimmer often gets door-to-door service. That flexibility might be Zimride’s greatest selling point: Routes can conceivably start and stop anywhere, at any time. You might live in an area that’s not near public transportation and want to go somewhere just as difficult to get to, but if the right person with wheels is making the same trip, you’re golden.
Still, you want to make sure you’ll be comfortable in an enclosed space with a stranger for hours, which is why Zimride emphasizes the importance of its online profiles. “Maybe you only want to ride with females or want to have a mutual friend on Facebook,” Zimmer says. “Find out what music they like — R&B or classic rock.”
For now, Zimride doesn’t charge for the service. It suggests a rate for a route — D.C. to N.Y. is $25 — but drivers are allowed to adjust it, and they get to pocket everything. In the future, riders will have to pay Zimride an additional transaction fee.
It’s definitely a different way to look at carpooling, and Zimmer has other plans to shake up transportation, namely Lyft, a service being tested in San Francisco that offers local rides for 80 percent the cost of a cab.
Lyft performs criminal background checks and in-person interviews with drivers to vet who’s behind the wheel. (You don’t select from a site like you do with Zimride.) And riders can give feedback about drivers, so anyone who isn’t providing comfortable trips gets dumped from the system.
Sounds like it’d be a hit in D.C., right? Zimmer promises Lyft will find its way here eventually, but he doesn’t have a timetable or a plan for how to get around the legal challenges. (He’s waiting for Uber, the luxury car service app that’s been tussling with the D.C. Taxicab Commission, to sort those out first.)
In the meantime, I’ll just keep mooching rides off people I know.
Going My Way?
A few trips that were available Thursday on Zimride.com:
-Justin leaves Friday from Arlington to NYC in his Elantra ($29).
-Or join Abel’s nonsmoking car trip from Gaithersburg to NYC ($30).
-Get 4G on Tuesday’s ride with Inge from D.C. to Boston ($45).