February 25, 2016 11:55 pm
Updated: February 26, 2016 12:46 am

UBC graduates create app for carpooling

A group of UBC graduates have launched a new app to help Vancouver commuters get where they are going. As Nadia Stewart reports, it connects drivers who have an extra seat with paying customers who need a ride.

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It’s a new way of doing an old thing for millennials.

“We like to think of ourselves as commute sharing,” said Josh Andrews, one of the co-founders for Spare Rides, a new and increasingly popular carpooling app.

Drivers and passengers in Vancouver sign up for the app, using information from Facebook to create a profile. The app maps out the driver’s route pairing them with passengers heading in the same direction.

Drivers are paid through the app – $1.50 when a rider is picked up and $0.50 per kilometer.

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At the end of each trip, drivers and passengers rate each other.

“We see this as real ridesharing and really commute sharing,” said Andrews. “We really hope that with technology we can open up some of these old systems which are like carpooling and begin to share more commutes and bring more cars off the road.”

Andrews says the idea was born while he was waiting for the bus as a student at UBC.

“I just saw hundreds of vehicles that were passing by me – most of them having one driver, no passengers – and it was just a frustrating experience,” he said.

For Elaine Li, the service just makes sense: why commute to work alone when there’s room in her car for more.

“If I can actually drive people, it makes my drive more economical,” said Li.

“It also shows that you don’t have to be in conflict with the taxi services to get something like this. We don’t need Uber. We need convenience.”

More than 600 people have downloaded the app since it launched on Monday. According to Andrews, about 1000 rides have been shared.

Andrews says Spare Rides isn’t a for hire service like Uber or taxis.

“We’re happy to see more players come into the Vancouver area that offer choice to consumers about how they’d like to get around,” said Selena McLachlan, marketing director for carsharing service MODO.

“We certainly welcome Spare. We don’t see them as a threat. In fact we see them as a nice compliment to our service.”

Andrews said they don’t conduct background checks on drivers because they aren’t employing them.

“We don’t have any contractors, so it’s not really something that we would have to do.”

He said they’ve already received a stamp of approval from the province and the city.

Industry watchers say the service might not make a noticeable dent in the city’s commuting crunch, but it does speak to the role technology will play in reducing it and the need for government to pay more attention.

“We don’t have a lot of time. Here’s just one example–couple of guys come together to make another option. It’s happening so quickly that by the time you figure out what you should do for the last round of technological change, there’s a whole other opportunity now to make the experience of getting around the city better and, my gosh, don’t we need that.”

Right now the service is only available in and around the UBC campus and along the Broadway corridor. The plan is to expand as demand dictates.

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