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Ride Solutions
Central Ohio program creates transportation alternatives
By Psyche North Torok
November/December 2014 Issue

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Lynn K. Robinson is committed to helping Central Ohioans find a better way to get to work.

Robinson is the manager of RideSolutions, a program offered by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC). MORPC is a voluntary coalition of Central Ohio governments and organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in the region. MORPC serves Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette, Knox, Licking, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway, Ross, and Union Counties. Currently the program has about 36 vans on the road and about 500 registered carpools.

“Our main goal in the RideSolutions program is to find opportunities and options for people not to drive themselves alone,” Robinson said, “whether it’s car pooling, van pooling, getting people on transit, or walking together. We even pair up people biking.”

RideSolutions began in the early 1980s when issues of traffic congestion and air quality came to the fore. “We started asking, ‘What kind of service can we offer to commuters that would help them do their part to relieve congestion, do their part to help clean the air?’” Robinson explained.

Air quality is one of the main motivators behind RideSolutions. “Emissions from cars are the leading cause of air pollution,” she said. “It helps reduce car emissions when people share a ride.”

Another incentive is traffic congestion. “If you have four people in a carpool, that’s three less cars on the road in the morning,” Robinson said. “We have 7, 9, 12, and 15 passenger vans. So you can see how well a vanpool can help relieve congestion.”

RideSolutions offers a variety of free services that can benefit almost anyone seeking an alternative to driving alone to work. The project’s versatility is a definite plus for Central Ohio workers. “It’s not a cookie cutter program,” Robinson explained. “We have the flexibility of designing and creating transportation alternatives for everybody.”

The RideSolutions database covers the entire twelve-county region and is geared toward making the commuting experience both enjoyable and convenient. It has the ability to match commuters based on smoking preferences, gender preferences, and more. In a similar way RideSolutions connects those who wish to bike or walk to work and are looking for a buddy just for safety or exercise encouragement. The data base information is always kept confidential.

The carpool service connects two or more persons who live in the same vicinity and are working in the same general area. Carpoolers drive their own vehicles or ride in someone else’s. Compensation agreements and other details are worked out amongst the individuals.

The vanpool system works in a way similar to carpooling. There is a fee for using a vanpool; this varies depending on the number of riders, how far the van is driven, and the cost of fuel. The fee can generally range from $80 to $135, but that is offset by the amount of money riders save on gasoline, insurance, car maintenance, and parking costs.

Timothy Nalley, a Clayton, Ohio, resident who works for the Ohio Attorney General, is a big fan of the RideSolutions vanpool system. “I’ve used the van service for almost eight years now,” he said. “It’s cheaper than driving and a lot easier. Some people are working on the drive in. Some are reading a book. Most of the people sleep on the van. That’s a huge plus. I get extra sleep that way.”

Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Ride Solutions is what’s known as the Guaranteed Ride Home feature.

“It’s our ‘insurance policy’ to the commuter,” said Robinson. “It takes the worry out of ride sharing. You call the taxi of your choice. You pay that taxi. You send us your receipt and we’ll reimburse you for 90 percent of that taxi ride home. We do have a cap of four times per year so we ask people to be cognizant of when they are using it. If you bike to work and there’s a storm, and you need to get home, there’s your option. If the boss says you need to stay late, you miss your bus, there’s your option to be able to get home.”

Despite its positive reception, RideSolutions is not without its challenges. It currently has more commuters in need of a ride than it has drivers able to fill the role. “People are just not spending their resources on buying a car as they did in the 2000’s,” Robinson said. “That’s making the balance a little off for us.”

Another obstacle is getting people to be open to the idea of sharing a ride. Robinson explained that in a mid-sized town like Columbus, the idea of carpooling can seem foreign. “It’s hard to pull people out of their cars,” she said. “Even about riding the bus, people are fearful or uncomfortable. But once somebody starts ride sharing they usually stay with it.”

Getting the word out to potential users is also challenging. “Lately we’ve put up billboards around Central Ohio. We have some TV commercials that are out there on the cable stations. We have some radio ads out there,” said Robinson. “Then we’re looking to the communities to help us get the word out. We serve twelve counties, so we’re stretching our resources there and that makes it a challenge for us.”

But it’s easy to become part of the Ride Solutions community. “A person can pick up the phone and call us,” she said. “They can go online and submit an application. We also have a secure online site called RideShare Ohio where they can view a match list. Wherever you’re moving, you can find out if there’s a carpool, a vanpool, or if there’s a transit route that’s available.”

RideSolutions has big plans for Central Ohio’s future. “Our goal is educating and making all of our twelve counties knowledgeable about the services we provide,” said Robinson. “We’re always open and looking for new trends and best practices that will allow us to do that. A rail system would help our services because it would give people another option. It would allow us to offer the commuter more than the services we have now.”

Will RideSolutions have any lasting effect on the air quality and traffic congestion of Central Ohio? Lynn Robinson hopes it will. And she’s driven to doing everything she can to make that happen.

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© 2014 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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