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Opinion

Zimride potential rideshare opportunity for UWRF

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November 29, 2012

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditures Report, the average American household spent $8,293 on transportation in 2011. After housing expenses, transportation accounts for the largest annual cost we bear as a nation, more than food, healthcare, insurance or clothing.

If UW-River Falls offered a program for students and employees to save on transportation, would you use it? I live 45 minutes away from campus and struggle with the cost of commuting as well as its burden on my carbon footprint: it’s a no-brainer for me.

The UWRF Sustainability Working Group, a Faculty Senate committee, passed a unanimous resolution in favor of Student Senate and the campus exploring a contract with Zimride, a private ridesharing network modeled after Facebook.

Here’s a rundown on Zimride: should we enter a contract, we’d have access to an online carpooling network. According to Amy Fox, a representative from Zimride, “UWRF falls along one of our most active Zim-routes: the I-94 corridor.”

The program is flexible and can be used for regular commutes, holiday trips, going home on the weekend, visiting friends at other UW campuses and embarking on legendary road trips.
To sign up an individual creates a simple profile describing personal preferences as well as the offered or wanted ride. For example, in the case of my school commute, I would ‘Post a Ride’ indicating that I’m willing to drive from Point A to Point B. I select when the ride will occur, how many seats are available in my vehicle and if I want to be compensated for gas.

My profile will let potential passengers decide whether I’m a good match for their travel needs. Amongst other traits, I might post that I love listening to 89.3 “The Current,” I don’t allow smoking in my car and that I have a reliable, fuel-efficient vehicle. Interested passengers within our private network would be able to see the ride and request to be a rider. As the driver, I can see their profile and would have final say over who rides with me.

Zimride gives the opportunity for both riders and drivers to leave feedback on the rideshare experience. If my passenger was an hour late or stiffed me on the agreed upon gas money, I would not write them a glowing review. Then again, a rider might become a new friend that I’d recommend online as a respectful travel buddy.

Safety and satisfaction are self-regulated by member feedback, but also through limiting the community to UWRF or “trusted partnerships,” like the eight other UW campuses that already use Zimride. The network only posts the nearest cross streets of an address and would only allow members within our specified network to see the ride details, even if you chose to publicly share the Zimride post on Facebook.

About 80 percent of the Zimride cost would fall under student fees. The Chancellor’s Sustainability Allocation would cover 20 percent. The program would cost $12,000 per year, plus a discounted one-time start up fee of $950. The price seemed awfully steep when I thought this was simply providing access to existing software. In fact, Zimride would supply an “Assigned Rideshare Specialist” to educate and do outreach and promotions on campus. The engineering and maintenance of the customized network is also included along with a statistician’s time to accurately report our carbon reduction and other stats we would need. The safety and privacy provided by ridesharing through Zimride’s network design is also valuable.

How does Zimride fare compared to the cost of other sustainable initiatives? Fox gave me this example: “We recently had one of our partners do a sustainability analysis on Zimride’s program compared to their solar panel contributions. Their findings showed Zimride saved them 3/4 of the CO2 saved from their solar panels at less than 1 percent of the cost.”

Benefits to ridesharing are plentiful, whether we use Zimride, a bulletin board, or word of mouth to connect with other riders. Not only does it reduce our carbon footprint, but we have the opportunity to make unexpected positive connections within our community, recoup gas expenses and possibly even share the cost of a parking permit with a fellow regular commuter. The Cascade Avenue project made free parking within a few blocks of campus even scarcer. It follows that with more students ridesharing, we could have less traffic congestion and more convenient parking.

I invite you to attend the Student Senate meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the Willow River Room on the third floor of the University Center. As a student representative on the Sustainability Working Group, I will be presenting with peers to further Student Senate’s investigation of a possible contract with Zimride. Your opinion is valued. If you cannot make it to the meeting but feel strongly one way or the other, please email comments to molly.breitmun@my.uwrf.edu and I will share them with our elected representatives.

Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.