The social Web has changed a lot of things – apparently, according to a new NPR report, it includes how we get around. The story says that teenagers are using Twitter to snag rides. It’s official: Hitch-hiking has gone digital.
“Lots of us are using Twitter and Facebook to find rides and not just to school. Now that it’s summer, we cyber-hitchhike even more, because rides are scarce and parties are plenty. It’s awkward to call a friend and ask for a ride, and half the time, they’ll say, ‘Sorry, my car is full.’ But with Twitter, you just tweet #AshleysPoolParty and look for other people heading the same way,” says Youth Radio correspondent Bianca Brooks.
Brooks says teens stay within their “social circles” when asking for rides via Twitter. Even so, Twitter is entirely public, and ne’er-do-wells could easily see these hitch-hiking hashtagged, geo-tagged tweets and exploit the situation.
Connections made via social networks, of course, don’t always turn out well: Earlier this year, one teen was kidnapped and driven to Mexico by someone she met on Kik, and there’s ample research that shows pedophiles use Twitter to target their victims.
People soliciting rides on Craigslist aren’t necessarily safe either. There are more than a few harrowing stories in which trusting individuals have been harmed by strangers they connect with using the site.
Still, the ride solictitors keep hitting up these avenues to find rides. You can’t fault them entirely: There is certainly a rationality behind using the Internet to hitch your next ride. What is the Web for if not to find a crowdsourced solution to your problems?
The obvious answer to this scary issue is that you need to do your homework. Check in with friends and text them before and after you get a ride; thoroughly investigate the backgrounds of these driving companions as much as is possible (always check their Facebook profiles and make sure everything matches up) – even ask for references; consider not accepting a ride unless there will be more than just you and the driver in the car.
But these basic precautions aren’t always enough – plus, the younger hitch-hikers out there (who are reportedly spearheading this trend) generally are more cavalier about their safety than they should be. Luckily, we’re living in the app age, and there are more digital solutions to Internet crowdsourced carpooling that a Twitter request.
“Our app is better than using social media channels – like Facebook and Twitter – for a couple of reasons,” shares Rob Power, marketing lead at Carma, a real-time ridesharing app. “Carma lets you share the cost of driving through automated in-app payments. These payments always stay below the official reimbursement rate (as approved by the IRS), meaning that any money you receive is non-taxable. Because these payments are capped, your car insurance is unaffected.”
Carma is also self-regulating in the sense that everyone receives star ratings from their fellow travelers – if you find a match, you can see how many rides they have shared and how highly they have been rated. Users are advised to provide an updated profile photo, giving you a preview of the people you are hoping to ride with.
Another, Ridejoy, highly values safety. “The number one thing we want is for this to be safe and make sure users feel comfortable and that this is a good experience for them,” Ridejoy told us in an interview last year. The app uses Facebook to backup identities, as well as a reputation system for users to endorse their drivers. You can also validate your license to give your riders more faith.
One site, eRideShare, while offering its own solution to hitch-hiking, also has a few pointers on staying safe if you’re using digital ridesharing options. ERideShare encourages its members to correspond with potential travelmates – whether they’re found via its site or Craigslist, or wherever else – through the form on its site, and it will act as a middle man by keeping private information private without blocking communication.
It also encourages travelmate vetting by arranging in-person meetups prior to scheduled departure, in a public place, where they can discuss arrangements and exchange pertinent contact information (and verify authenticity).
“If the users follow sound identification and meeting procedures, any of those platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist) can be good ways to meet for ridesharing,” says Steven Schoeffler, founder of eRideShare.
As a further safety precaution, ridesharing services like eRideShare and apps like Carma tend to have age restrictions on clients they cater to – probably because in most states, you have to be at least 16 to drive (and participate in a road trip/driver relief arrangement). Also, safety is better guaranteed with a price tag. However, that doesn’t mean teenagers completely have no place in the ridesharing market. Carma is currently conducting app trials for teenagers in select communities and their prices are pretty reasonable, almost comparable to fees one would pay for a bus ride. “Carma costs $1 for the first mile traveled and $0.20 for every mile after that . This is a highly affordable way to travel by car,” says Power.
Really, eRideShare sums it up best in blaring red letters on it’s site:
“The Internet is like a big city with all kinds of people in it. Don’t travel with someone you don’t trust.”