- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

A circus, a ski resort, a gardening store and a Tex-Mex restaurant are just a few of the varied businesses joining together to conserve fuel and cut down on pollution in the Washington area.

NuRide Inc., an online network that matches riders with drivers, has partnered with Chevron Corp. for the “Chevron 5,000,000 Mile Rideshare Challenge,” in which the Reston company plans to alleviate area traffic by rewarding commuters who share rides. The goal of the contest, which began Feb. 28, is to achieve 5 million miles in shared rides by the fall.

“It’s a unique way to bring the business community together to help citizens solve a perplexing and monstrous problem, and that’s traffic and all the ills that it brings,” said Rick Steele, NuRide’s chief executive officer.

The company estimates that 5 million miles in shared rides would conserve 200,000 gallons of gasoline and equate to 2,100 fewer tons of carbon-dioxide emissions.

But the contest isn’t relying on environmental benefits as the source of motivation. For each ride they share, users amass reward points they can redeem for show tickets, dinner cruises, lunch or golfing at one of more than a dozen businesses taking part in the challenge.

“When the NuRide opportunity came up, we thought, ‘What could we provide them with that would be appealing in terms of sponsorship to their constituency?’” said Lex Birney, chief executive officer of the Brick Companies in Edgewater, Md., which is offering rewards through its subsidiary Atlantic Golf.

Mr. Birney said the challenge fits with his company’s environmentally conscious mission. In total, Atlantic Golf will provide $7,200 if all rewards are redeemed.

Local businesses can improve their image and profitability by participating in the contest, Mr. Steele said. While NuRide receives some government support, it is funded mostly through the sponsors, which pay the company a fee to participate.

Russ Yarrow, spokesman for Chevron, the lead sponsor, said the NuRide contest is a good opportunity for the oil company to demonstrate its commitment to conservation as a way to lower gas prices.

“We’re finding ourselves now at a time when oil is $70 a barrel and that’s having an impact at the pump,” Mr. Yarrow said. “[The challenge] looked like a pretty smart, innovative way to increase ride-sharing in really congested markets like Washington. It fit well with our view of how we need to solve energy issues, so we got behind it.”

High gas prices provide additional motivations to commuters who might otherwise be hesitant, Mr. Steele said.

“Sometimes getting people to change their behavior is really hard,” he said, noting that 65 percent of NuRide users say they have never shared a ride before. “Gas prices are definitely an accelerant to new membership. It gets people to consider changing their behavior quicker.”

While van pools and slug lines have been a fixture in the Washington area for decades, Mr. Steele said NuRide overcomes the inadequacies of traditional carpools because it is flexible.

“The only problem with sharing rides the old-fashioned way is people had to commit to the same person, the same time, every day for the rest of their lives,” said Mr. Steele, who added that the average member uses the service 3.5 times a week. “People just can’t do that anymore.”

NuRide users can match rides for work or leisure, and can specify whether they prefer to ride or drive. They can schedule rides one at a time or at any interval they wish. Riders and drivers also have an opportunity to rate each other and can reject other users.

For the sake of transparency, users must provide an e-mail address linking them to an organization, such as their workplace or university. Mr. Steele said NuRide has targeted large businesses in the area so that co-workers or friends can ride together.

So far, participants have logged nearly 1 million miles while earning an average of $2 in rewards per day, Mr. Steele said. Some promotions include a $25 gift card to Home Depot for 2,500 miles in shared rides; $40 off an XM Satellite radio after 4,000 miles; or a $100 Chevron gift card after hitting 10,000 miles.

About one-third, or 5,000, of NuRide’s members are in the Washington area. The company has expanded to New York, Connecticut and Hampton Roads, Va., and has plans to debut in two other major markets this year, though Mr. Steele declined to say where.

“Traffic’s the same problem everywhere,” he said. “If it works in Washington, D.C., it’s going to work in any city.”


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