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How to hitch a ride on the Web

Ride-sharing sites take a page from Facebook to match riders with rides.

By Amy FarnsworthContributor of The Christian Science Monitor / July 24, 2008

Snarl: Despite traffic, a carpool lane leading to the San Bernardino freeway in California sits empty. Eleven percent of workers carpool.

Aurelia Ventura/LA Opinion/newscom

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James Tresner, a senior at Mid­dle­bury College in Vermont, used to ask around in his dorm or consult friends in hopes of finding someone to share expenses with when he drove home to Connecticut on break. Now he casts a wider net with just a few clicks of his mouse.

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Mr. Tresner simply logs on to GoLoco.org, a social-networking website that connects carpoolers across the United States and Canada. For Tresner, a side benefit was a stimulating conversation with a fellow student from Tibet as the two shared Tresner’s car over a Thanksgiving break.

As gas prices climb and global-warming headlines blare, more people are looking for ways to save fuel, including carpooling. GoLoco is one of several websites that is helping to match rides and riders. The scope of potential poolers is big: A 2005 US Census Bureau survey, the latest available, found that only about 11 percent of workers carpool, while 77 percent drive to work alone.

Besides being environmentally sound (cars contribute 20 percent to the US carbon footprint) and potentially convivial, carpoolers save cash.

Robin Chase, the creator of GoLoco and the cofounder of Zipcar (a car-sharing business), notes that carpooling can “cut the cost of travel in half, if you share the price.” In 2002, the average US household spent $7,825 on transportation, according to the Department of Transportation. This year, AAA reported that the per-mile cost of operating a new vehicle rose to 54.1 cents per mile, up 1.9 cents in a year. Today it costs an average of $8,121 to operate and maintain a car every year, AAA figures show. GoLoco riders and drivers usually split travel expenses equally, based on a cost of 50 cents per mile traveled.

GoLoco, based in Cambridge, Mass., be­­gan in April 2007. On the site, people can post trips, listing starting locations and destinations – provided or desired. Users can create profiles with photos. They may list interests, musical preferences, and languages spoken. They can chat with one another without revealing phone numbers, and arrange to pay for tolls and gas expenses in advance (for a 10 percent transaction fee) through the website. Call it electronic hitchhiking – but you get to choose your travel companion ahead of time.

When Stephanie Groll’s car died two years ago, she and her husband chose not to buy another. Instead the Cambridge, Mass., couple decided to use public transportation to get to work and rent a Zipcar for weekend trips. Although they had used Craigslist’s ride-sharing community on a few trips, Groll was wary of not knowing anything in advance about the people with whom she’d be traveling. “We just could not screen them other than their e-mails,” Groll says. She turned to GoLoco. Her only quibble is that she wishes the site were more popular, so there would be more rides and riders listed. “As soon as there’s a critical mass on GoLoco,” she says, “it will be a powerful tool for people who don’t own cars or for people who do own cars.”

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