With the relaunch of its free, online rideshare service - once called GreenRide Connect, now called GeauxRide NOLA - New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (NORPC) hopes to turn New Orleans into a carpooling city.
NORPC public transportation planner Nik Richard says the program connects both potential carpoolers and people who need a ride with drivers who live or work nearby. It's intended to help New Orleanians get to work, cut down on transportation and parking costs and plug the gaps in neighborhoods which are intermittently served by public transit.
"[It] give[s] folks another option, maybe where public transportation doesn't give them the needed connectivity," he says. "Maybe [a] neighbor can bring them to a bus stop; maybe [a] neighbor can bring them halfway and they can catch the bus for the other half. ... Maybe they both have a car and they want to alternate [driving] days."
[jump] Though NORPC had a long-running ridesharing program targeting employers (who sometimes can receive tax breaks for encouraging carpooling), the GeauxRide NOLA relaunch is focused on employees and job seekers. Regular transportation to work, particularly between parishes which don't share the same transit system, can be a challenge for workers and people looking for a job, Richard says. GeauxRide NOLA could help mitigate that problem by connecting regional commuters with potential carpool partners, or expanding the geographic range of opportunities available to job seekers who rely on others for rides.
The GeauxRide NOLA service is available to people traveling to and from several surrounding areas, including Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Tangipahoa, Plaquemines, St. John and St. Charles parishes.
For users, GeauxRide NOLA functions like a very simple social network. There's a short online registration process in which you provide basic information about yourself; you also can sign up using your existing Facebook profile. There are options to select your commute if you regularly travel one route to work, and you can choose whether you'd prefer to ride with people of one specific gender or people who don't smoke. The service then displays nearby matches based on your selections.
The match process is driven by riders, who message back and forth with one another to negotiate rides. Richard notes that this process should help assuage some safety concerns, and says you're most often matching with your neighbors, or people who work in the same part of the city as you do.
"You don't just click a button and somebody comes to pick you up from your house. it's not like Uber," he says. "You see the people that you match with, and you make the decision if you want to go forward with contacting them. You get to know them."
Though NORPC and New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) operate independently of each other, GeauxRide NOLA could help address challenges public transit riders may face as NORTA implements its forthcoming Strategic Mobility Plan. At recent public meetings, plan consultants mentioned that the plan may include changes to and condensing of certain bus routes. Ridesharing services, such as GeauxRide NOLA, have the potential to help riders get around as the local transit system evolves.
GeauxRide NOLA is federally funded by the Department of Transportation, so there's no fee to sign up for or use the service. Currently, 308 riders and drivers are signed up for the program, but NORPC wants to encourage more signups, both to expand rider options and to work toward a larger goal of cutting congestion and vehicular emissions in the city.
"In theory, there's so many different people who would be able to use this," Richard says.