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Nick Aster headshot

Hytch Makes Carpooling Pay in Tennessee

By Nick Aster

Mark Cleveland understands how hard it can be to get people and companies to make sustainable choices. The startup he founded, Hytch, has a solution that's taking off fast: cold hard cash. To put it simply, Hytch pays people to carpool, or otherwise team up on their daily commutes. Since launching in February of this year, the company has logged an impressive 2 million miles of shared rides in the state of Tennessee and signed up more than 6,000 participants. It's all made possible by the sponsorship of corporate partners looking to help employees and their communities make better, more efficient commuting choices.

Hytch initially launched with Nissan as a sponsor. The carmaker operates a sizable factory in Smyrna, Tenn., where employees make long commutes, typically driving solo from as far as an hour away. Long commutes are costly in monetary terms but also in employee wellbeing, carbon footprint, congestion and many other ways. Making commutes easy and cheaper could go a long way towards improving employee satisfaction, retention, productivity and ultimately the environmental impact of the entire company.

Nissan and their staffing agency signed up to offer anyone in the state of Tennessee a penny a mile if they teamed up with someone for a ride. They offer five cents a mile during certain commute hours. There are obvious marketing benefits to the move but Nissan was also interested in learning about the behavior of people that choose to share rides - smart thinking as the future of mobility continues to evolve. A shared ride is also a carbon neutral ride thanks to offsets purchased and retired by Hytch.  In fact, when more than two people ride together the ride is arguably carbon negative.

The way it works is simple. Anyone can download the app to their phone and connect with colleagues and friends. The app matches drivers with riders and off you go. As long as the two phones remain moving in close proximity, the ride can be credited as shared. It even works if folks team up to ride the bus or other transit means, but there need to two or more folks together to make it work.

Why two people? An added bonus of Hytch is that two or more people riding together means social engagement - interaction, discussion of work, and makes the concept inherently viral as folks seek each other out to share rides. There are other unexpected benefits. Drivers with passengers are less likely to experience road rage and tend to be on time more often.

Since the early success with Nissan, additional sponsors have come on board. Each additional sponsor can set their own rules and prices for exactly how payouts work. For example, they might seek to encourage carpooling for an NHL hockey game. One local university is seeking to reduce crowding in parking lots on certain high traffic weekdays, and other companies are keen to simply sponsor things more generally. All the sponsorship adds up so that it's possible for payouts to approach 50 cents a mile under certain circumstances. That adds up to real money, especially if you're in a lower income bracket.

So where do we go from here? The benefits of carpooling - and rewarding people monetarily for doing it - are too numerous to count. From carbon emission reduction to human wellbeing, anything that makes it rewarding to do the right thing is laudable. Ultimately, Hytch offers an organizing principal for the idea that sharing a ride is valuable. The technology simply makes it obvious and easy to demonstrate and track.

With success in Tennessee, and conversations already afoot in neighboring states it's only a matter of time before Hytch's technology spreads.

Nick Aster headshot

Nick Aster is the founder of TriplePundit. Prior to launching 3p, Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years, and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He also worked for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging. Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

Read more stories by Nick Aster