The Ridesharing Apps That Could Change The Way You Get To Work

Using strangers for rides has yet to catch on in most places, but a bad economy and high gas prices can make almost anything palatable. Here are four startups that could start the ridesharing revolution.

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).

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.

Reward Ride

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.

Zebigo

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.

Avego

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.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

[Images: Flickr user AlphaTangoBravo, Zimride, Reward Ride, Avego]

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3 Comments

  • Martin Lewis

    The ridesharing concept has already gone main stream in Europe, especially in France, Spain and now even in the UK. There are several websites & apps (available on mobile as well) which offer ridesharing services.  One such Europe wide rideshare platform BlablaCar(in the UK) along with its French(Covoiturage) and Spanish(Comuto) counterparts has managed to gather more than 1.3 million strong community.

    Even though petrol price rise is one of the main factors the other important factor which makes it really popular is the environmental(opportunity to reduce carbon foorprint) factor. They have managed to save a wopping £100m and 200,000 tons of CO2 on over more than 6 million shared trips.

    The ridesharing concept has several such benefits, among others it even makes the journey a much more sociable experience. One of the ways in which there sites offer security and trust is by allowing the users to rate each other, based on their journey.

  • FrankA

    Let's hope it will pick up in the US the same way it recently did in Europe with players like Blablacar.com.
    Clearly, the cost of driving is still much higher there and that
    probably explains the early sucesses in France, Germany and the UK.
    Given the macro trends in petrol prices and governement taxation
    policies, the economics in the US will probably make long distance
    carpooling increasingly compeling.