The seemingly never-ending rise in gas prices has made ridesharing seem less like an opportunity for awkward small talk with a coworker and more like an easy way to save cash. For drivers and riders who don't have easy access to a carpooling buddy, there is a growing group of ridesharing smartphone apps that can help (and in some cases, earn drivers some extra gas money in the process). Jut this week, ridesharing stalwart Zimride announced that it is opening itself up beyond college campuses. Below, we take a look at some of the most promising rideshare apps (including Zimride).
San Francisco-based Zimride has actually been around since 2007, but up until this week, the online carpooling service was limited to university use. Now drivers and passengers who need rides between San Francisco and Los Angeles can sign up for the service, which already has 300,000 users. The premise is simple: Drivers post where they're going, how many seats they have, and how much they want to charge (i.e $25 per seat). Potential passengers can submit their payment info, and drivers have the leeway to decide whether to accept or decline an offer (both passengers and drivers have profile info and reviews). Passengers get a full refund if the driver doesn't show up. Zimride has an Android app available, and riders can also use the service's website to set up rides.
This yet-to-be-released iPhone app will use a points-based system to connect riders and drivers. The service will be free to join, but riders can purchase points from Reward Ride to "pay" to their drivers.
"If a passenger wants a ride, there will be a calculation of where they're going, and that will be transferred into a point amount. If the driver doesn't show up, the rider is awarded points," says Reward Ride CEO Jason Gorham. When a ride is completed, drivers receive points from their passengers that they can then use for rides. The self-funded service plans to roll out at the end of September in Boston.
This service, which is available in Washington state. and will be available nationally in 2012, features a payment system that is a bit more precise than Zimride. Zebigo matches riders and drivers with a system that takes into account profile and route, and riders pay a mileage-based fee to drivers (plus 49 cents per trip to Zebigo). A 13-mile trip costs approximately $5 (a lot cheaper than a cab). There's a bonus for users concerned about a criminal hitching a ride: an optional Lexis-Nexis background check. Zebigo recently launched both an iPhone and Android app.
Ridesharing startup Avego offers a real-time ridesharing service that users can access on the iPhone and Windows Phone 7. Users sign up for the service, provide credit card info and a phone number (so Avego knows that they are real people), and are matched up--drivers are shown riders who have a similar destination. Avego pays drivers for gas, and passengers pay Avego a small fee.
Both passengers and drivers can also rate each other for future reference. The company, which was founded in 2007, recently launched a pilot program called go52 for Washington's highway 520--a popular route for University of Washington students Microsoft employees. This will be the first concentrated pilot (Avego expects 1,000 users to take advantage of the app along the highway), but Avego is already available worldwide.
It will probably take a while for any of these services to take off. After all, the online ridesharing idea has been around for years, and a major player in the U.S. market has yet to emerge. Perhaps that's because people are uncomfortable getting into a car with a stranger--or feeling like a chauffeur. But if online ridesharing does take off in the near future, these will be the startups to watch.
[Images: Flickr user AlphaTangoBravo, Zimride, Reward Ride, Avego]