Long gone are the days of sticking a thumb out on the street and hitching a ride from a passerby. University students in the Lebanese capital of Beirut have brought carpooling to the 21st century in attempts to manage the city’s inevitable traffic jams while saving cash and protecting the environment.
They set up the country’s first carpooling website -- autopooling.com -- which allows users to register their departure point and destination while checking who else is traveling on the same route.
To guarantee safety, potential carpoolers can request specific companions, allowing them to exchange personal information and gain access to their Facebook profiles.
Maria Zeinoun and Chant Kazandjian are carpoolers and students of the Lebanese American University in Byblos. Zeinoun registered her daily trips on the site and soon received a response from Kazandijian to join her.
Besides bad traffic, public transportation standards in the country aren’t up to par, factors which got Kazandijian to seek alternative means of getting to university. His typical route included a few bus transfers and taxi rides, until he discovered carpooling.
The motto of the concept is simple: “Save money and fuel, reduce traffic, meet new friends, pollute less.”
“I liked the idea because it is a little strange, so I felt it had potential. We should encourage carpooling because it has many benefits and saves a lot of fuel, especially since it now costs 40,000 Liras for 20 litres ($27 dollars). This will help many students, who have little pocket money plus it’s a nice way to meet new people at the university,” said Zeinoun.
The idea of the site came about after several members of the environmental club in the American University of Beirut decided to encourage the idea of carpooling, according to web developer Paul Salameh.
“We created a small website for AUB called AUB carpooling and after its success we decided to expand to Notre Dame University. It succeeded there too so we expanded carpooling to all universities across Lebanon. In two months, we had covered not just universities in Lebanon but also companies who can also use the website,” he said.
He says one of the main challenges in creating the platform is to ensure passenger safety when hitching rides with strangers.
“We focused on safety, which is why we created ‘Companionship Request’ where a person who wishes to carpool with someone in particular can send a request and the other person has to approve it. Once approved, the first person can then see their information, phone number and e-mail address. If a person wants to know more about who’s sending the request, we created what we call 'Facebook Integration', they can see each other's Facebook profiles and verify if they are in fact enrolled at the university and so forth,” he said.
The site, which was launched in March this year, currently has 2,000 active users and the creators are planning an application for smartphones.