February 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 26°F


Web site to help rideshare initiative

Ithaca College has teamed up with area colleges and county agencies to bring a social networking Web site that will help students find carpooling and ridesharing opportunities.

Fernando de Aragón, executive director of Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, looks at plans for the new Web site yesterday in his office on East Court Street. The site allows users to search for rides. Andrew Buraczenski/The Ithacan

The initiative will use software from a company called Zimride, which provides a Web site that allows users to search for carpool or one-time ride opportunities for both drivers and passengers.

The rideshare program will include four main pages — to serve the college, Cornell University, Tompkins Cortland Community College and Tompkins County — with privacy settings specific to each network to allow the filtering of results, said John Zimmer, co-founder and chief operating officer of Zimride.

Users enter a start and end point and a departure time, and Zimride uses a search algorithm to compile results based on the time, distance and route of a proposed trip compared with existing trips in the system, Zimmer said.

The committee chose Zimride based on its user interface, Facebook integration option, matching capabilities and feedback system, Marian Brown, special assistant to the provost and vice president of academic affairs, said. Brown is one member of the initiative’s steering committee.

The committee also includes representatives from places such as Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Way2Go program and Tompkins County Department of Social Services.

Fernando de Aragón, executive director of Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, said Zimride’s ability to facilitate one-time rides is essential.

“With the student population, there is going to be demand for that kind of one-time or event rides,” he said.

While many students currently find rides from friends or by posting on Craigslist or Facebook, arranging rides can often be a struggle, said Cornell junior Valerie Askinazi, who lives on Long Island in New York.

“Considering how many people are from Long Island and New York City, it’s surprisingly hard to find a ride,” Askinazi said.

Funding for the project will come from a $54,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, de Aragón said.

De Aragón said the grant will offset the $179,000 total project cost for the three-year pilot program. The cost difference will be paid in the form of in-kind contributions for promotion and advertising from the participating education institutions, he said.

David Lieb, assistant director for public information for Cornell’s Transportation Management Services, said the committee is still waiting for the state to make the grant money available.

Once the money is accessible, the committee will be able to sign a contract with Zimride to build in the modifications, Lieb said.

De Aragón said he hopes the site will be live by the end of the school year, allowing for troubleshooting and advertising during the summer.

Senior Jeff Goodwin helped write the grant proposal last summer as part of his Commit-to-Change internship.

Goodwin said the rideshare initiative is an excellent opportunity.

“This is just one tool that will allow both students and faculty to really start weaning themselves off of having a car at all times,” he said.

Eleven percent of commuters in the county currently carpool to get to work — making carpooling the second most popular form of commuter transportation in the county after driving alone, de Aragón said.

Bob Edgecomb, Web communications manager at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said the collaborative aspect of the program is essential to its success.

“We all agreed right from the beginning that if every group that was represented could find and support the same site, we could better build a critical mass,” Edgecomb said. “That’s something that is necessary for a tool like this to work well.”

Edgecomb said this partnership allows for a pooling of resources, which makes the project financially possible. He said it also allows for an  increased number of potential matches because of the number of users.

“People are more likely to look on [a ridesharing site] if it’s something more people are using in the entire area, rather than smaller groups of people,” Askinazi said.

The group is looking to serve as a model for how ridesharing can benefit a community, Goodwin said.

“Hopefully this will maybe be one of the key pieces that help really solve our transportation issues that we’re facing on campus, in Ithaca and as a country as a whole,” he said.