Four years ago, Jenny O’Brien moved to northeast Kansas with her husband. The couple wanted space to grow vegetables, keep animals, and live the good life. But O’Brien soon saw a drawback: All the driving she had to do. Every time she had to get to work or go to the store, she needed a car.
Lawrence Onboard came about after O’Brien listened to an episode of Freakonomics on the radio. The program discussed how people aren’t hitchhiking any more–because of all the stories about axe-murderers and assaults by drivers–and what a shame that was, because hitching is an efficient way for everyone to get around.
O’Brien wondered how she might make hitching safer again, and thus reduce the amount of driving her and neighbors had to do every day. “I thought, if we could just figure out a way to credential hitchhikers and show they are safe, you could use it as a transportation option,” she says.
Lawrence Onboard is a simple idea. People who need a ride sign up and take a background check. O’Brien hands them a photo-ID, which gives them the right to catch a ride with a registered driver, who display a logo on their windshield. Riders then stand by the side of the road, holding a sign with a destination on it. Before getting in the vehicle, they send in a text to Lawrence Onboard with the license plate number or the driver’s member number, so there’s a record.
O’Brien tested the concept last summer in Lawrence, Kansas, and the results were encouraging. Out of 121 trial rides, 95% of passengers were picked up within 30 minutes. The average was just seven minutes–much quicker than waiting for a cab or, in all likelihood, a bus. “I found it was a commuting option all last summer,” O’Brien, who used the service herself, says. “And, I also made a lot of connections with my neighbors, which is a cool thing.”
O’Brien says citizen taxi services like Lyft or Uber aren’t options in the countryside, and carpooling is difficult to organize even with apps like Carma, which match up riders with spare seats. The elegance of Lawrence Onboard is that it relies on serendipity, with a little organization and control thrown in.
She’s now seeking $25,000 as part of a RocketHub campaign, which will go towards a second pilot this summer. O’Brien hopes to start accepting riders for real next spring, all being well.