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Metro Officials Hope Ridesharing Program Becomes Eventful
 By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau, 26 Nov 02

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Wanted: Single adult who likes opera, Seahawks or Pearl Jam, has car, and promises not to be late or drunk. Ever set out excited to see your favorite band or sports team, only to grow annoyed, even enraged, by traffic from hell or parking that costs more than the event?

King County Metro hopes to make your good times better with a new program that uses the Internet to pair up strangers who want a car-pool buddy to go with to local events. It's off to a slow start, but officials hope the concept will catch on; they even consider it a precursor to the transportation system of the future.

Called event ridematching, the program is believed by Metro to be the first of its kind in the nation. While a few loose-knit networks and private groups in other cities have provided similar, sometimes temporary service, Metro created a permanent, public buddy system for dozens of local happenings, from the ballet to the Tacoma RV Show to Kenny G in concert. "A lot of times in the evening there isn't really good bus service, traffic is bad, parking is expensive. Maybe you don't want to walk to your car in the dark," said Cathy Blumenthal, rideshare coordinator, citing reasons why people would want to buddy up.

The self-serve concept is modeled after Metro's commuter rideshare program, where 7,500 people regularly hook up, most online, to brave the freeways together, saving time, money and precious sanity. The commuter rideshare concept is popular in other local transit districts, but none have expanded to events outside of work.

"It's something we could consider getting involved in the future, though," said Tom Pearce, spokesman for Community Transit of Snohomish County. Seattle Center and the University of Washington are helping to promote the service in King County, hoping it will attract more attendees to events at their venues. "We're always looking for ways to get people here efficiently," said Seattle Center spokesman Perry Cooper. The center is hosting food, music and art celebrations on the rideshare list in coming months, and the university promoted the new program at its men's basketball game this past weekend. So how exactly does it work?

Visit http://www.rideshareonline.com/ and select an event from a list that currently features more than 30 picks. Then, enter some basic information, including your name and home address or a nearby intersection. If others who live near you are also looking for a buddy for that event, their e-mail addresses will pop up. You can even check a map to see who's attending and lives closest to your home. From there, said Blumenthal, people can e-mail one another privately, screening potential buddies for the right match. "Hopefully they'll talk on the phone and get to know the people a bit better," Blumenthal said. Sound warm and fuzzy? A Metro poster promoting the new service features a picture of three people walking arm in arm, presumably strangers who just met and are on their way to a fun event.

The woman in the middle wears a stylish black coat; to her left is a middle-aged man in a shirt and khakis; on her right is a guy in jeans. They're all grinning, and the caption below reads, "Make going out more fun. Share the ride." The program was the brainchild of Park Woodworth, manager of paratransit/rideshare operations at Metro. The man some employees call a visionary has even bigger hopes for the concept. He said that in coming months Metro plans to launch a similar effort organizing rides to private events.

In a region where traffic worsens by the year, Woodworth thinks the ability to go online and find a car pool fast can revolutionize the way people get around. The possibilities are endless, he said: "Boeing or Microsoft might have a meeting for employees who are spread out at different buildings. The UW could use it to help students get to classes. Little League games, industry events, weddings." Neighbors on their way to the grocery could even get online to check whether a nearby senior citizen needs a lift, producing not only environmental and cost-saving benefits but social benefits as well, Woodworth said.

But what really happens when strangers thrown together so quickly have to rely on each other to get somewhere safely? What if, for example, the designated driver you just met drinks too much beer while rooting for the Huskies? What if the guy you car pooled with to Pearl Jam decides to take that cute rocker girl home instead, leaving you stranded with no money and no ride in the pouring rain on the other side of the lake from home? "I suppose there is the potential for trouble," Blumenthal said. "It's a public service, and people do accept responsibility — we have a disclaimer." Some people think it's a good idea — even if the program is so new that none of them found partners initially.

Mark Horrocks, who also uses commuter rideshare, signed up for a buddy to share a ride to the opera. He holds season tickets. "It's mainly to alleviate (my time in) traffic. It's just an awful bottleneck, and I'm rushed trying to get there," he said. Victoria Petra signed up to find a buddy for the Seattle Interior Show. She got a match, but in the end their schedules didn't jibe. Petra attended the show anyway, spending a half-hour searching for a parking spot on the street in order to avoid a costly garage. "I wasn't nervous," she said. "I would absolutely try it again. I'm not discouraged." Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

2002 PostNewsweek Tech Media

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