It Pays to Carpool

It Pays to Carpool

Reston-based company changes face of commuting

It’s a pretty sweet deal according to Mike Ciota, who carpools from Ashburn to the Reston Town Center.

For one, he gets a regular respite from navigating the region’s notorious rush-hour traffic. Not to mention, it saves him more than $400 a year in gas and tolls.

“Beyond the fact you’re saving some dough, you’re doing some good,” said Ciota, proud of doing his part to cut harmful automobile emissions.

The kicker, though, is that for doing something he’d be doing anyway, Ciota received “a couple hundred bucks” worth in gift certificates to places like Target and Blockbuster last year.

Ciota, 46, is no mere carpooler; he’s a NuRider.

Nuride, Inc., a Reston-based for-profit company, believes carpoolers should be rewarded for reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. The company’s business model is based on the support of local governments, transportation associations and corporate sponsors which sign on “as a way of thanking individuals for doing their part,” according to the company.

The two-year-old firm is the nation’s first incentive-based ride network that rewards people for sharing rides.

WHEN SOMEONE LIKE Ciota joins the NuRide network and confirms shared rides, that person accrues points, which can be cashed in for various gift cards to companies like Brookstone, Chevron, Disney on Ice, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Plow & Hearth, and XM Satellite Radio.

“It’s a great service,” said Ciota, a banker who has used it for about a year.

While the average NuRider receives between $400-450 in gift certificates, according to Guillermo Söhnlein, NuRide’s vice president of sponsorship and sales, an active user can earn $750 a year in rewards. “The rewards are provided by our corporate sponsors.”

After getting the network up and running in 2004, NuRide users has swelled to roughly 5,000 people in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

“And we have been controlling the growth,” said Söhnlein, explaining that expansion has had to be commensurate with the level of corporate sponsorship. As the company secures more sponsors, the more riders it can support, he said.

In addition, the network is limited to people who have a unique e-mail address with a major organization, like an employer or a school, to eliminate anonymity. NuRiders also have an opportunity to rate each other, similar to the feedback system used by eBay.

Söhnlein expects a lot more people will be hearing about NuRide in the next year.

IN MARCH, THE COMPANY launched the Chevron 5,000,000 Mile Rideshare Challenge. NuRide is tracking all the miles its users save by sharing a ride until riders collectively hit the mark.

“It helps increase awareness about ridesharing, NuRide and our sponsors,” said Söhnlein, who added that similar challenges have been done in New York and Houston, the two other markets the company operates.

NuRide anticipates the objective will be met in the spring of next year after 10,000 commuters share more than 130,000 rides.

The result will be 5,000,000 fewer miles driven, 200,000 fewer gallons of gasoline purchased and 2,100 fewer tons of automobile emissions.

Keith Ross, 56, who works at Verizon in Ashburn and has used NuRide for over a year to commute from Germantown, Md., hopes the challenge will help the company “reach out to more people.”

When Ross’s daughter needed new tires, he found the perfect use for a $100 Firestone gift certificate he earned recently for using NuRide. “The points accumulate pretty fast,” said Ross, who carpools with three other co-workers.

Like Ciota, Ross recognizes all the other incentives that go along with carpooling. He gets to and from work faster because he can use the high-occupancy lanes. He saves money, approximately $3,000-4,000 a year in gas, tolls and wear-and-tear to his car, he said.

“We carpool everyday, and I know we’re helping people by doing that,” said Ross.

According to NuRide, a 10 percent increase in ridesharing reduces congestion by 50 percent. “It’s part of what we call community benefits,” said Söhnlein.