Traffic is only worsening in many cities. Plenty of cars on the road have empty seats. Commuters often share similar driving patters. And just about everyone is on a social network. One company is using the power of social media, as well as its proprietary route-matching algorithm, to push sustainable, convenient, and yes, even social transportation.
Welcome to Zimride. The Bay Area-based firm builds relationships with universities and corporations, and hosts social networking sites that seek to match commuters who are willing to share a car to reach their destinations. The results: reduced emissions, less traffic, and increased social skills . . . after all, some people actually meet their Facebook friends in person.
The service is straightforward and easy. Users can login using their Facebook profile, and then can create a profile with their interests and habits, including the way they drive, how loud they play music, and if they permit smoking. They can select whether they are a driver, passenger, or both, and can enter their trips and frequency—perhaps they are searching for a weekend back to their hometown, or a regular trip to Costco. Zimride then maps out a route, and the ride is stored in the service’s database.
One beneficiary of Zimride’s service is the University of Southern California. Close to downtown LA and two major freeways, the campus sits in an area with poor air quality. A light rail line is under construction, but the first phase will not be ready until 2011. Bus service is inconvenient for most students. Nevertheless, the air quality around campus has recently improved, and Zimride deserves some of the credit. About 3000 USC faculty, students, and employees use the service, and most users are enthusiastic about both the convenience and greening effects carpooling has at the University. Zimride is also more efficient than past carpool matching schemes, not to mention the old campus bulletin board and index card system of yesterday.
Currently 55 universities across the United States use Zimride, and some corporations like Cigna have partnered with the carpooling service as well. If you are not a student or work at a large corporate campus, you can still find potential carpoolers through Zimride’s free public service for commuting or traveling purposes.
Investors have noticed. The company scored $1.2 million in funding from various sources in August, and Facebook’s fbFund doled a grant to Zimride, too. Services like Zimride show that social media is still in its infancy, and can do more than just finding us “friends” on the other side of the globe.