U launches Uber-like campaign to increase carpooling to campus

Would you carpool with a complete stranger during your morning commute to save money on gas?

Zimride — a ride-sharing website — already has 200 people answering “yes” to that question.

Founded in 2007, Zimride is currently at 125 university campuses, including BYU. The U launched its own site on Monday, and only students, faculty and staff with a current UCard can sign into the university network and register as a driver or rider. Drivers set up profiles by describing their regular commute and personal interests, like music. While it’s free to join, drivers can decide if they want to charge commuters. The service can also be used for off-campus rides, such as going up the canyons during ski season.

“It’s the most convenient way to safely find people to carpool with. That is its whole objective,” said Derek Jensen, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering.

The idea for Zimride came from a course Jensen took last year on global change and society, specifically focusing on air quality. In a three-part project including literature and bicycle awareness, the class wrote a proposal to receive funding from the U’s Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. Jensen and three other students focused on carpooling and received the grant.

Jensen sees several benefits from using the program, but his primary objective is to limit the U’s carbon footprint.

“The one main goal is to clean up the air,” Jensen said. “If you’ve ever stood out on 100 South during the morning commute, you see about 90 percent of the cars coming up to the university are single-operator.”

Ayrel Clark, campus engagement coordinator for the Sustainability Office, said it is also a way to save money on gas and meet new people. It would also free up the limited number of parking stalls at the university.

“There are so many emissions wasted from people just driving around parking lots looking for a space,” Clark said. “We want to help eliminate those issues.”

Clark said the U should be a leader in reducing pollution, and carpooling is a step in the right direction to reach the university’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

“In Salt Lake, during the winter inversion, 58 percent of that pollution is from mobile sources. That includes things like commuting to campus,” she said. “If we can help reduce the pollution emitted by cars, we can help lessen the toxic inversion.”

The total SCIF grant came to about $20,000, which will cover a three-year agreement with Zimride to maintain the U’s private network and run data on how many miles the U is saving. Jensen said this is a trial period to see how effective the program is on the U’s campus.

“It’s part of the solution. As much as you try to get everyone to take mass transit or ride bicycles … there’s not one solution for all students,” Jensen said. “But I have a lot of confidence it will work well here.”

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