Back in the day (1990s), college students used to look for rides by posting notes on cork boards at the student Union. At least that’s what they did at Michigan State University. That was pretty useful back then, and maybe the world was a safer place. The world is a more connected place these days, and a carpooling app called Wheeli is matching people who are going somewhere with people who need to get somewhere.
The startup calls it “new age hitchiking.” Users who download the app or go online can post a destination or join a ride and split driving costs. Drivers are paid through Wheeli, with no cash exchanging hands. There’s vetting for safety and security: Users can sign up with a .edu email address and there are driver ratings.
Besides getting from point A to B, users (known as Wheelsters) also can make new friends and reduce their carbon footprint by filling empty seats. It encourages fewer SOVs (single occupant vehicles).
Wheeli’s key to success has been a focus on college students and campus communities, according to Headwaters Magazine, a student publication at the University of Vermont. It was founded in 2011 by Jean-Pierre Adéchi, an experienced young traveler and entrepreneur, notes a post from the university’s Grossman School of Business.
GreenBiz.com recently listed Wheeli as one of 10 transportation and city startups you should know after it placed in the top three companies among more than 100 that competed in the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator California Climate Cup.
“Jean-Pierre Adéchi, founder of Wheeli prevailed in the Zero Emission Mobility and Goods Movement category, sponsored by Itron Idea Labs,” the incubator says, likening Wheeli to ”an Airbnb for empty car seats on the road.”
Wheeli launched at the University of Vermont in 2016, where it’s since captured a quarter of the campus, and is growing three times as fast at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where it launched in September 2017, GreenBiz reports. Outside of Vermont, the app listed 105 rides as of this writing, to and from destinations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Indiana and more.
As someone who’s taken the bus and the train, this sounds like a step up. The old pushpin bulletin board method of finding rides also was practiced at other colleges, according to The Middlebury Campus student newspaper at Middlebury College in Vermont.