Ride$hare: Navigating the Berkshires by leaving your car behind

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By Wednesday, May 28 Environment, News  10 Comments
David Scribner
Chip Elitzer, signaling for a ride on Railroad Street, after presenting his Ride$hare concept to the Great Barrington Selectboard.

Great Barrington — What if there were a way to break the stranglehold of our automobile-centric, single-occupancy travel habit that burns extravagant quantities of gasoline, contributes to air pollution and climate change, and worst of all, isolates and imprisons us – although we are an intrinsically sociable species — in rolling metal boxes in order to get from one place to another — alone.

Further, what if it were possible to establish an acceptable, safe and reliable way to share automobile rides, even as short as a mile or less, that would provide dependable conveyance and that could become particularly valuable for those unable (or unwilling) to afford the cost of a car to get to work – or go to a job interview – or get to the store or to the doctor.

And what if such an alternative could be introduced without the creation of a government bureaucracy or the expenditure of public funds.

Donald B. “Chip” Elitzer thinks he’s found a way. He calls his system “Ride$hare.”

Basically, as he described it to the Selectboard Tuesday (May 27), it is formalized, paid hitch-hiking. It works like this.

Elitzer demonstrating the V sign for a Ride$hare driver.

Elitzer demonstrating to Great Barrington Selectboard the V sign to notify a Ride$hare driver.

If you need a ride somewhere, you stand by the side of the road and instead of sticking out your thumb, you put up your hand with your fingers making a V sign. That’s an indication to drivers you need a ride.

But the ride isn’t free. The ridersharer pays the driver 50 cents for each 5 miles or fraction thereof, so for drivers there is an financial incentive to share your car – not enough to make money at it, like a taxi – but enough to pay for some of the gas, insurance and upkeep.

“You could call this spontaneous car pooling,” Elitzer told the board. “I think this could go viral.”

Elitzer proposed that the board adopt a resolution endorsing the concept, and noted that he will be going before selectmen and city councilors in other Berkshire communities to ask for the same recognition.

The board agreed to draft such a resolution, after consulting with town counsel, and discuss it at its June 9 meeting.

“I think this is a brilliant idea,” declared Selectboard Vice Chair Sean Stanton.

Selectboard Chair Deborah Phillips agreed, but was concerned about drivers being sure to stop in an appropriately safe location to pick up riders.

Elitzer acknowledged that it will be a challenge to initiate, but he is confident that if enough people adopt the Ride$hare concept, it could revolutionize transportation networks and assist the local economy.

From his seat in the Town Hall meeting room, Tim Geller, executive director of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, commented that “the lack of public transportation has a huge impact on the economy. If adopted, this could be of huge benefit. And I think there is something about this area that just might make this idea work.”

“This is a grand experiment,” Elitzer conceded. “We’re doing a culture change here, but at the same time we’re establishing a sense of civic connectedness. There are so few occasions in our society where people from different economic and social backgrounds are thrown together and can interact. I want Great Barrington to be the birthplace of this ”

And this is an experiment worth trying, he maintained.

“This United States transportation system is based on a great fleet of privately-owned vehicles, which operate with substantial unused capacity,” he stated. “It wastes gas, contributes to congestion and pollution, and adds to wear-and-tear on roads and bridges compared to the same passenger miles with fewer but fuller vehicles.

“This is a people’s movement,” he said. “If it works in the Berkshires, it could work in the Commonwealth. And if it works in the Commonwealth, then in the nation. We could be saving 15 to 20 percent in gasoline consumption.”

He is well aware of the people’s caution in picking up hitch-hikers, but he points out that picking up strangers as passengers has worked famously without incident in Houston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where drivers pick up riders in order to take advantage of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways that usher drivers around traffic jams.

“In all these HOV rideshare networks, there’s not been one recorded crime against a driver or a passenger,” he pointed out.

Chip Elitzer before the Great Barrington Selectboard explaining the Ride$hare concept.

Chip Elitzer before the Great Barrington Selectboard explaining the Ride$hare concept.

Success of Ride$hare will depend, he notes, on general acceptance of the concept, and therefore the frequency of available drivers.

“If there is a 10 percent adoption rate of Ride$hare, that means that one out of 10 drivers will be willing to give someone a ride,” he said. “This means leaving the car behind. Eventually, it could even mean not owning a car.”

And he added: “I expect to be a rider and driver tomorrow morning. It starts here. Of course, the first person to do this will be a hardy soul.”

In the meantime, however, he is starting his campaign immediately. So if you see Chip Elitzer with his hand up, signaling with a V sign along any of Berkshire highways and byways, pick him up. It’s worth it.


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10 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Judy says:

    As a woman who was “sort of” abducted by a middle-aged guy when my girlfriend and I were hitchhiking as young teens back in the 70s (he wouldn’t stop the car, he wouldn’t speak to us or answer our pleas to be released, but then he dropped us miles from our intended destination — maybe as a lesson to be more careful?) I am a little wary of picking people up, and certainly wary of getting into other people’s cars if I don’t know them. I know – it’s just my personal hangup based on a bad experience. But wouldn’t it be great if we had a system (online or otherwise) of communicating that enabled people to sign up as members and then a person could post in the morning that they were driving from West Stockbridge to Great Barrington around 11 a.m., for instance, and others could sign up for rides and be picked up along the route? Just an expansion of Mr. Elitzer’s idea, which, by the way, I think is brilliant! The “V” method is far more spontaneous and easier to implement around GB, of course, when you might just want to go from Fuel to the Guido’s… I do hope this catches on! One thing that drives me crazy is that the bus doesn’t even stop in West Stockbridge. I think that’s appalling. I would use it, even though it doesn’t run enough to be convenient.

  2. Honey Sharp says:

    I’ve often wondered why we don’t have a system where we could look online for rides to or from train stations or other distant places? Doesn’t this exist in certain US metropolises? It seems ridiculous to see people you know at Wassaic also picking up neighbors back in the Berkshires.

  3. Ruth says:

    I love the original idea, although i take the point about being wary about picking up or being picked up by strangers , although oart ofnthenreason this could work here is that you could basically pretty much stick to picking up people you know. I also like the suggestions above. Maybe BerkshireEdge could host the “boom a ride” site?

  4. Ruth says:

    I love the original idea, although i take the point about being wary about picking up or being picked up by strangers , although oart ofnthenreason this could work here is that you could basically pretty much stick to picking up people you know. I also like the suggestions above. Maybe BerkshireEdge could host the “boom a ride” site? Or we could start an FB page.

  5. Sharon True says:

    I love this idea, although I wonder about the payment part. Fewer and fewer people carry cash these days. However, maybe there would be a way to coordinate this with Berkshares? Then two ways of contributing to local economy could happen together.

  6. Joyce Scheffey says:

    I love it! Brilliant concept and Honey’s idea of an on-line process would make it possible a way to plan one’s trips, coordinate times and destinations in advance.

    Although, on the other hand, the simple, neighborly serendipity of just making a V sign and taking your chances is appealing. Certainly an idea worth pursuing.

  7. tehd says:

    Great idea! Also, check out the facebook page “rideshare” that was started a while back geared towards berkshire residents.
    I’ve hitchiked probably over 2,000 miles and never had a bad experience. I’ve never had a bad experience picking up hitchikers around here or anywhere else. If you are weary of picking one up then dont. The money side of this ride$hare idea throws me off a bit. I could see it also working with bartering. Would any of you pick me up for a bag of dried bananas? haha

  8. tehd says:

    Great idea! Also, check out the facebook page “rideshare” that was started a while back geared towards berkshire residents.
    I have hitchiked probably over 2,000 miles and never had a bad experience. I’ve never had a bad experience picking up hitchikers around here or anywhere else. If you are weary of picking one up then dont. The money side of this ride$hare idea throws me off a bit. I could see it also working with bartering. Would any of you pick me up for a bag of dried bananas? haha

  9. Pat says:

    I would really be leery about picking up anyone hitchhiking or holding their hand in a V. Being a woman driving alone, it is an easy way for rapists or car jackers or God know who else – there is too much risk in this – what is the difference between picking up a hitchhiker or a V rider. Without a thorough background check, there could be danger for anyone who dares to do this. Perhaps, other cities and towns don’t have problems with hitchhiking or now V riders, but I doubt it. A lot of people who have been raped do not report it as they think somehow it is their fault – clothes too sexy or some such thing. I worked in the Rape Crisis and Family violence nonprofit industry for 7 years plus did volunteering work in this field as well so know from providing counseling and other services to these victims. Be careful people – saving a bit of money is not worth the risk.

  10. Pat says:

    Here is a funny side to consider – if you are Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy, it would be easy to put someone up on the saddle in front of you and throw them off if they are a threat. Or, I suppose you could carry a concealed weapon and put a hole in the holster and shoot anyone who threatens you. No, it isn’t a funny matter at all, but there are risks and dangers involved so people (especially women) think seriously about this before you pick up a hitchhiker or a V rider. Let them take a bus or taxi instead.

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Frederick Simmons Sr., 86, of Lee

Tuesday, Oct 17 - Fred enjoyed hunting and fishing in the local area, vegetable gardening, woodworking, spending time with his large extended family and being a great dad.