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Social networking shifts car-sharing into high gear

L.A. Cicero zipcar freshmen

Freshmen Galaan Dafa, left, and Shadi Bushra picked up a Prius reserved through Zipcar for a run to In-N-Out Burger on April 6. They coordinated the ride-share on Zimride, an Internet service that is partnering with Zipcar.

L.A. Cicero zipcar juniors

Juniors Mililani Trask-Batti, Rachel Lum Ho and Kanani Honeychurch used Zipcar to run errands off campus on April 6, 2009. They then stopped for Thai food before returning to Stanford.

If this was Facebook, the update would read "Zipcar and Zimride are now friends."

Car-share provider Zipcar and Zimride, a ride-sharing service on the Internet, are debuting a first-of-its-kind partnership today at Stanford. The integration combines the community-oriented and environmentally progressive practice of car sharing with the fun and ease of ride sharing via social networking, including through Facebook.

The collaboration also is a perfect match for Stanford, which has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in innovative, congestion-reducing transportation programs. And as an institution that has made sustainability one of its core academic missions—while continuing to embrace technological applications that improve everyday life—Stanford also serves as the ideal setting for the convergence of car sharing and ride sharing.

"We're pleased to be the first university in the country to combine Zipcar car sharing and ride matching for students, faculty and staff. It's a natural extension of Stanford's commitment to sustainability and innovation," said Brodie Hamilton, director of Stanford's Parking and Transportation Services. "With an integrated Zipcar and Zimride solution at Stanford, we hope to see more people choosing to carpool when they need to drive and choosing to live car free the rest of the time."

Zipcar, based in Cambridge, Mass., debuted on campus at the end of 2007. It has 18 vehicles stationed at nine different locations at Stanford, with a variety of models made by Toyota, Mazda, Ford and Scion. Currently, there are 1,200 Zipcar members at the university, and each pays an annual membership fee of $35. The hourly driving rate starts at $8, which includes gas and insurance, or $66 per day.

When they join, Stanford affiliates get a $35 credit that can be used during their first year, and members of Stanford's Commute Club receive $8 in driving credit each month. Zipcar vehicles can be reserved and driven around the clock, and each has a dedicated parking space.

Zimride, based in Palo Alto, started in 2007 and launched a customized version of its online application for Stanford in November 2008. There are 1,400 members at Stanford, and students, staff and faculty can join at no cost. Using Zimride's innovative carpool software, members simply set up a social profile and proceed to post trips they would like to take or offer.

Along with an intuitive interface, Zimride combines Google Maps, a proprietary ride-matching algorithm and many aspects of social networking. An especially attractive feature is that Zimride integrates seamlessly with a Facebook profile, allowing members to get to know potential riders or drivers beforehand.

"By leveraging existing social networks, we make it easy for people to feel comfortable because they know, or know about, the person with whom they're sharing," said John Zimmer, co-founder and chief operating officer of Zimride. "The intent is to make it easier, more convenient and fun for people to share rides—even if they don't own a vehicle."

Both Zimride and Zipcar see college and university campuses as the perfect place for their integrated service—given their parking constraints, their need to control congestion and, at Stanford, a passion for adopting an increasingly comprehensive array of transportation programs. Also, campuses tend to have large populations of students without cars who are more than willing to spread out the cost for gas—or avoid transportation expenses altogether.

"Stanford's leadership in fostering innovative transportation options was a key driver in the development of this particular program," said Scott Griffith, chief executive officer of Zipcar. "Given the strong use of Zipcar and the fast-growing base of Zimriders, the Stanford campus is a great place to launch this national effort."

From here, Zipcar and Zimride plan to promote the same integrated service to colleges and universities across the country. Zipcar has 275,000 members and 6,000 vehicles in urban areas and college campuses in North America and in London. Zimride serves more than 300,000 users around the world.

Before today, Zimride users could organize a carpool online and then separately rent a vehicle if they didn't own one themselves. But now, Zipcar users at Stanford can post their trip on Zimride, while Zimride members without a car can reserve one via Zipcar.

This will make ride sharing even easier for those at Stanford. When students Galaan Dafa and Shadi Bushra initially posted a trip they planned to take to a nearby In-N-Out Burger, an actual car was missing in the equation. At Stanford, freshmen are required to live on campus and are not allowed to keep a car here.

An hour before their planned burger run, Dafa clicked over to Zipcar and reserved a silver Toyota Prius stationed on campus. By that time, two other students across campus had responded to Dafa's ride-share post on Zimride and wanted to join in the off-campus jaunt.

"It was easy. It was just a matter of saying, 'I'm going here, from here, at this time. Who wants to come?'" said Dafa, standing next to the hybrid. "It really just opens up communication."

"And it's attached to Facebook," Bushra added just before getting behind the wheel. "So you can see if you know that person or if you have anything in common with that person."

Zipcar plans to station more vehicles at Stanford in the months ahead. Zipcar's website for Stanford is http://www.zipcar.com/stanford. Zimride's customized application for Stanford is at http://www.zimride.com/stanford, and for more information about carpooling and the university's other alternative transportation programs, go to http://transportation.stanford.edu.