Friday, November 25, 2005

Ride-sharers driven by rewards - Save Gas - Car pool for rewards

NuRider service offers commuters flexibility, along with incentives such as gift cards

Cheryl Moeller fancies the idea of being paid — rewarded, even, in the form of gift cards — for what she's already doing.

She and her husband have been commuting together for more than four years. She's a real estate analyst for the El Paso Corp. and her husband, Jim, works for the city of Houston's Neighborhood Protection Corps. They live in far west Houston, almost to Katy, and their commute downtown takes about 35 minutes, mostly in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.

Since late August, when they enrolled in the NuRide ride-sharing program, the couple has earned two $35 gift cards from Shell and two $25 cards from T.G.I. Friday's restaurant. By using one vehicle, they have also saved roughly $410 in gasoline, limited wear and tear on their pickup and eliminated a ton or so of emissions that would otherwise end up in Houston's air.

"The big attraction was the rewards. NuRide pays us to do what we'd already been doing for all these years," Moeller said.

NuRide, first launched in the Washington, D.C., area in March 2004, is the nation's first incentive-based, ride-sharing program. It started in Houston on Aug. 1, and some 2,100 commuters have enrolled in the program, which is administered by the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

"We've made it convenient as possible. You do it all online, you pick who you want to ride with, when you want to ride, everything. You customize it your own way," said NuRide spokesman Michael Nolan, based at the program's headquarters in Arlington, Va.

For each commute, participants are awarded points, redeemable at various businesses for gift cards and other rewards.

NuRide members pick the days and times they would like to share rides, almost like booking an online airline ticket. The program — at — matches riders with others traveling to the same destination, and its flexibility enables them to ride daily or once a month.

For security, NuRide is set up through employers, which permits verification of each rider's identity. Participants must have an at-work e-mail address. A potential ride-sharer researches other NuRiders by clicking on their user names to reveal where they work, their travel information and their rating by other NuRide members.

"That's what I like best — the flexibility. It's almost like online dating — not that I've ever done that," said Colleen Martin, education manager for the urology department at Baylor College of Medicine.

Martin joined NuRide in early September and now shares rides with a man and a woman from her neighborhood who had already been car pooling and who also work in the Texas Medical Center. They rotate driving every three weeks and split the center's $150-per-month parking fee.

"I'm an ecologist. That's my main motivation. I care about our finite resources and I can't stand the crowded freeways, but I like the rewards, too," said Martin, who has earned gift cards from Shell, Old Navy and Home Depot.

Nationally, Nolan said, NuRide has about 9,000 members who have shared 150,000 commutes, resulting in 4.5 million fewer miles driven and 2,000 fewer tons of emissions.


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