No matter how you slice it, getting to the airport is a painful and often costly endeavor. Public transportation may be the “greenest” and least expensive option, but it often involves lengthy waits, cramped shuttles, and the possibility of a missed connection that could kill your trip before it even gets started. Group vans will usually pick you up at your doorstep, but they’ll swing by a half dozen other stops on the way. And while door-to-door taxi service may eliminate most of these hassles, you’ll be paying a high price for the convenience.
Hitchsters helps you reap the benefits of door-to-door transportation for only half the cost by helping travelers who live close to eachother split a cab. The site launched two years ago with initial support in New York City, and is finally making its way to the San Francisco Bay Area, along with a host of improvements that will transform the site from a purely altruistic meeting place to a viable business.
In the past, Hitchsters was a very barebones service – you could see a list of possible matches in your area, but it was up to you to call your match and arrange for a cab. The site has now partnered with a number of limousine companies who are willing to offer Hitchsters customers rates similar to what they’d get from cabs, and will automatically pair up matches depending on the distances between their addresses (there’s no longer a need to call your match). And because the rides are booked through the limo service, you can also pay online (the fare includes tax, tip, and tolls) so there isn’t an awkward exchange of cash. Hitchsters generates revenue by taking a small portion of the price, which is typically still significantly smaller than what you’d pay for your own cab (and much less than for your own limo).
Unfortunately the system is still a little iffy for the ride home. Hitchsters hasn’t set up any deals with limo services for the trip from the airport so you’ll need to hail your own cab (this shouldn’t be too difficult as taxis are often swarming airport terminals). But a bigger problem will lie in finding someone to ride home with – Hitchsters tries to work around issues with flight delays by only pairing you with people on your flight, but unless the system becomes very popular or you get lucky, you probably won’t find someone on your flight heading to the same region. In the future the site will try to work around this issue by launching a centralized database that can pair travelers that arrive at the same time, even if they were on a different flight.
Provided users can get used to the fact that they’ll be sharing a cab with a stranger (simple solution: don’t get in if they look creepy), Hitchsters seems to have a great idea and a reliable business model. In the future the site will be adding support for Boston and Washington, DC, and is considering expanding beyond airport travel (imagine being able to share a ride to a ball game).