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Hitchin’ a ride online

Brendan Francis Newnam Apr 25, 2008

Hitchin’ a ride online

Brendan Francis Newnam Apr 25, 2008


Tess Vigeland: Do you know how much gas prices jumped this week? Almost 14 cents a gallon according to AAA. In one week!

Part of the spike came from refineries switching from winter formulas to summer formulas and oil prices are on a steady march to $120 a barrel.

For many of us that means cutting back on travel budgets, but there are other ways to get from point A to point B.

Brendan Newnam found one on the Internet.

Brendan Newnam: When I arrived in Los Angeles, I didn’t have a car, but I did have a girlfriend. The trouble was she lived in San Francisco, so I turned to what is increasingly becoming the concierge for the stingy: Craigslist, a free Internet bulletin board.

Craigslist has a rideshare category, which is kind of like a digital hitchhiking spot where people offer and solicit car rides around the country.

CEO of Craigslist Jim Buckmaster describes the sort of posts you can expect to find there:

Jim Buckmaster: Any possible combination of people/objects/animals going to any possible location by any kind of conveyance for any reason and in any kind of crazy circumstance.

Crazy circumstances like the guy who used rideshare to find someone to join him on a car race… from London to Mongolia.

Most people who use Craigslist have more modest goals. People without cars use it to catch rides and people with cars use it to save on gas.

I have a car now, so I posted an ad one Friday morning looking for passengers for a trip to San Francisco and just six hours later, I was picking up two riders.

Cass McCombs: Should I just throw this in the backseat here?

Newnam: Yeah, just throw it in the backseat now and we’ll figure out the trunk later.

Cass McCombs was at the local Greyhound station. He had a ticket for San Francisco, but somehow the bus didn’t have a seat for him, so his wife posted an SOS on rideshare.

Then we picked up Monette Fong at a Walgreens drugstore and apparently, I should have picked her up first:

Newnam: Are people usually late like me?

Monette Fong: No. Never.

Newnam: Really?

Fong: Never.

Newnam: Everyone’s usually on time?

Fong: Or like, earlier.

I may have been running late, but she and Cass were still going to arrive in San Francisco for a bargain. Here’s the math: a plane ticket from LA to San Francisco usually costs a $100 or more. The Greyhound costs over $45 and takes an extra three hours to get there. And rideshare?

Newnam: So we’re at the first gas stop. My car, I think, takes like $60 worth of gas and since I’m a sucker, I’m just splitting it three ways, so that’s $20 each. So I’m just going to put it on my card and you guys can just give me cash.

McCombs: Alright.

Fong: OK.

Newnam: OK.

Fong: There you go.

That’s right: $20 for speedy door-to-door service with bathroom breaks that don’t involve having to sit near an actual bathroom. As it turns out, Cass and Monette were getting a deal even by Craigslist standards:

Newnam: So now that we’ve already worked out the terms of the deal, how much do you usually pay?
Fong: Like $35.

It was still a bargain for me. And not only did I get gas money, I got companionship — and I learned a lot about my companions:

Fong: So I went online to Craigslist to meet a date and I met this Italian guy and he was just so hot!

Now, if you’re not much for chit-chat, you can always say so on your post to the rideshare board — that’s where passengers and riders set the ground rules for their trip.

Another tip: speak to the person your meeting beforehand and ask a few questions. That’s what Monette did. In fact, she had planned to hitch a ride with another Craigslist driver, but…

Fong: This guy, he sounded like… scary, so forget about him. I mean, woman has this strong instinct, you know?

Cass, on the other hand, posted his ad at the last minute. He never had the chance to decide if I was scary or not. I asked him how he felt about his decision.

McCombs: Yeah, I lucked out. I was really upset earlier and I’m having a really good time. What about you?

Me? I was having a good time too and according to Buckmaster, this isn’t uncommon. In fact, some people have a really good time.

Buckmaster: People end up dating or even married through rideshare. We’ve even seen Missed Connections ads posted later from folks who shared a ride, but had lost track of the other person and was trying to reconnect with them for romantic reasons.

Romance certainly wasn’t in the mix for our crew, but as we dropped off Cass in Oakland, I did make plans to grab a beer with him back in LA. As for Monette…

Newnam: Are you sad that Cass left?

Fong: No.

Newnam: You’re not?

Fong: No.

Newnam: You’ve done a lot of Craigslist rideshares. How did this rideshare go?

Fong: Good, but I should have been here at 10!

Hey, you get what you pay for.

In San Francisco, I’m Brendan Newnam for Marketplace Money.

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