Lawrence group wants to bring hitchhiking mainstream - KCTV5

Lawrence group wants to bring hitchhiking mainstream

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Supporters said hitchhiking gets a bad name and described the vision of Lawrence OnBoard as something different from the person thumbing a ride on the highway to get across the country. Supporters said hitchhiking gets a bad name and described the vision of Lawrence OnBoard as something different from the person thumbing a ride on the highway to get across the country.
LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) -

A local group is trying to bring hitchhiking into the mainstream by branding it as roadside ride sharing.

The group, called Lawrence OnBoard, got a positive but hesitant response from the city commission during a presentation Tuesday night.

Supporters said hitchhiking gets a bad name and described the vision of Lawrence OnBoard as something different from the person thumbing a ride on the highway to get across the country.

"It saves fuel, builds community, and creates ties between people," said Matt Kirby. "You get to know people you otherwise might not have met."

Kirby was among many members who provided comment after the presentation by group organizer Jenny O'Brien, who said the group has been testing out the program to see how it works.

"We found that one out of five drivers is somebody that was known to the rider, a friend a neighbor and acquaintance someone they knew from around town," O'Brien said. "Being that it's local, it increases neighborliness and trust and connectedness."

The proposal calls for a membership program, run by the nonprofit, in which member riders and drivers would get background checks and photo IDs. Riders would get a branded, reusable dry erase board on which to wrote their destinations. They would then text members with driver information before taking a ride.

O'Brien said test runs showed an average wait time of seven minutes, with one in every 16 cars stopping.

"We want to find a way to do this with no violence, or mayhem, or monkey business," O'Brien told commissioners.

The group came to the city not to seek funding but to ask commissioners to consider changing a city ordinance that outlaws hitching a ride. When Lawrence OnBoard began its test run, O'Brien said, it wasn't aware of the ordinance, which is more restrictive than state law, because the prohibition includes not just being "upon a street" but also "along a street."

"All you have to do is get rid of these two words," she told the commissioners.

"It's just two words," one commissioner comment. "She makes it look so simple."

"But as we've learned two words can make a big difference," another commissioner responded.

Commissioners asked about funding. O'Brien said the group was still looking at options, including crowd-sourcing and a grant offered by the Transportation Research Board.

One person in the audience raised concern about unintended costs and liability.

The city manager said he would have city staff prepare a replacement ordinance for consideration in January. He said he would have staff look at how to address the possibility of unintended but negative consequences in drafting the new language.

O'Brien said getting the law changed would give the green light to a plan that is still a long way from taking off.

"We are not ready to fling riders on the street," O'Brien said. "We still need six months to a year of research to make it smart and safe and easy and reliable."

Meanwhile, she has received interest from national environmental groups as well as organizations in Australia and New Zealand, which she said will be closely watching the progress in Lawrence.

You can find more information on the group's progress at LawrenceOnBoard.org.

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