Help the environment, save money on gas, and rack up rewards, too? Locals give a thumbs-up to this growing rideshare program
By Mary Forsell
Have you ever wondered where that stressed-out person in the passing lane is going in such a hot rush during your morning commute? Just maybe they’re headed to your office building — or right next door.
“One of my co-workers used to pass my house every day on her commute without realizing it,” says Jason Arana, who works in broadcasting for A&E Television Networks in Stamford, Connecticut, but lives 40 miles away in Brewster. His co-worker, Kerri Ahern, lives in New Fairfield, Connecticut, a short distance over the border. NuRide, a free incentive-based rideshare network, brought them together as commuting buddies.
Like many of the 2,700 NuRiders
throughout the Hudson Valley, Arana learned of the private company’s services through his employer. At last count, more than 500 regional employers have partnered with NuRide. Arana signed up on-line and was notified through an E-mail that there was a commuting match. Turns out that he and Ahern actually knew each other already from the company volleyball team, but had never discussed where they lived. “Now instead of taking the highway, she comes past on the local road, drops her car off or I get into hers, and then we go on together to work,” Arana says.
Since signing on, Arana has cut his commuting gas bill in half. “We alternate cars every couple of days. We don’t pay each other for gas. What’s cool is that the Web site actually calculates how much gas you’re saving. Doing this definitely helps the environment. I wish more people did it.”
Headquartered in Essex, Connecticut, NuRide — which was launched by entrepreneur Rick Steele in 2003 — has modernized the classic carpool for the 21st century. Much like Facebook or MySpace, NuRide is essentially an on-line community, but members of the ridesharing network are rewarded for their socially responsible actions. NuRide kicked off in Washington, D.C., but is now active in five national markets: the tristate New York area; the D.C. metro area; Houston, Texas; Hampton Roads, Virginia; and the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
When members confirm trips on the computer (both ridesharing parties must log on), they accumulate points that can be used for rewards available through sponsors. Each trip, large or small, nets the same number of points — but the more people in your car, the more points you rack up (each two-rider trip earns 100 points; a three-rider earns 150 points, and so on). Local sponsors include Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, Applebee’s restaurants, and Panera Bread. Recently, Arana redeemed his points for a car wash, a Valentine’s Day bouquet, and a free ski-lift voucher at Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont (which “cost” 10,000 points).
So why doesn’t everyone sign on to rideshare? Maybe it’s the lingering stigma of carpooling and its daily demands. “Carpooling is like marriage,” says Lisa Sattler-Biesak, a spokesperson for NuRide. “It’s a commitment. NuRide is sort of like dating. You can find a ride whenever you want. It could be one day a week, one day a month.”
Getting riders to team up occasionally might not seem monumental. But consider this: The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 78 percent of cars have one rider; if just ten percent of those people shared rides, congestion delays would be cut in half. And greenhouse gas emissions — 30 percent of which are due to motor vehicles, says the Environmental Protection Agency — also would be affected. NuRide members in the Hudson Valley have already recorded a whopping 95,000 trips. “That means emissions have been reduced by about 1,500 tons, which equates to about 3.5 million miles off the road,” says Sattler-Biesak.
While most people use NuRide for commuting, you can use it for anything — errands, a trip to visit Grandma, whatever. Although your company does not need to have partnered with NuRide, you do need to have a company — or university-affiliated — E-mail address. “That’s an important criterion,” says Sattler-Biesak. “We do that for traveler comfort.” Once a member, you can develop your own criteria for partners, for instance, requesting a male or female, smoker or nonsmoker. “If we find a new match where you don’t know the person, you can’t see their E-mail address,” explains Sattler-Biesak. “We’ll help them connect, but don’t give away any private information.”
Halina Bak requested a female partner to share her ride when her Wappingers-to-Westchester commute stalled three years ago due to a bus strike. Through NuRide she discovered that a woman who works in her building also happens to live a scant four miles away. So they began alternating driving weeks on their bumper-to-bumper Taconic Parkway route.
Strangers to each other, they wisely laid some ground rules. When it came to the radio, it was driver’s choice. Bak, an information junkie, opted for a news station; her partner chose an evangelical station. “Let’s just say it was interesting,” says Bak.
One thing they had in common: Both love to cook. Recipes flew. “We come from two different backgrounds. I’m from Poland. She’s from India.” Bak tried some curry dishes and shared kielbasa. For three years they rode together, until the woman was transferred to another office.
Beyond financial benefits, there are positive aspects of NuRide that spill into other areas of life. “I’m definitely more relaxed,” says Bak, who now commutes with her husband, Dariusz, another NuRider. “And now I plan where I’m going when I go out on Route 9, so I’m not backtracking and wasting gas.” She also brings her own shopping bags to the supermarket to reduce plastic waste. The couple bought a fuel-efficient car just for commuting. “He goes to Elmsford and I continue on to Mt. Vernon.”
Not only do they log onto the NuRide Web site to confirm their trips, they rate each other, too. Highly, we hope? “He probably says I’m a backseat driver,” says Bak. She’ll never know. All comments are confidential.