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Mobile app for ridesharing could ease pain of 520 tolls

A new smart phone app is being piloted by the state to reduce SR 520 congestion and pollution.
A new smart phone app is being piloted by the state to reduce SR 520 congestion and pollution.

Tolls on the 520 bridge are set to start this spring and they could be as high as $3.50 each way. 

Frustrated?  There's an app for that. 

An Irish company called Avego created a new smart phone app for "real-time ride sharing." Company leaders say it encourages more carpooling. 

How it works

Drivers can plug in their route before heading out - and the app will match them with riders waiting at busy hubs, such as park and ride lots or the Husky Stadium. KING-TV's Elisa Hahn spoke with Avego's James Donovan, who says the system does away with specific carpool times and driving companions:

"That rider will get automatically matched to the driver in real time. It's not by pre-arrangement. It's completely casual," says Donovan.

The cost to the commuter is $1 for the first mile, and 20 cents for each additional mile. The payments are automated. The driver can use that money to cover the cost of the new tolls.

Incentives to take part

Drivers are recruited through incentives, including a $30 gas card each month, and some travel reimbursements as long as they offer 20 commutes or more in a 30-day span.

One requirement: drivers must have an iPhone; passengers can use lower-cost cell phones with text messaging to receive their carpool match, if they enter their route before heading out via a computer connected to the Internet.  

Safety Concerns?

Backers say using this technology is a lot safer than impromptu ride sharing that takes place in places like Washington DC and San Francisco, because all participants are pre-screened with background checks.  Ride details can be tracked.  And after the trip, drivers are rated by riders on a scale of 1 -5 stars.  

Both riders and drivers can reject any match, based on the ratings or for any other reason.  For example, a driver might choose a match with two riders rather than one, to get into the 3-passenger carpool lane.  Or a female rider might opt to only travel with other women.

It's a pilot project

Avego's technology is part of an effort called the Go520 Project, a state-funded pilot intended to reduce congestion and cut carbon emissions in the 520 corridor. 

In a statement, Brian Lagerberg of the state Transportation Department (WSDOT) says the state hopes the app will fill empty passenger seats:

"We're eager to see if this approach to carpooling works for commuters and traffic."

The State Department of Transportation is supporting the test at a cost of $400-thousand dollars.

Avego's project managers say the pilot is designed to enroll up to 250 drivers initially and 750 passengers.  It will be tested through July.  And there are hopes the project can be expanded to include routes along other congested corridors, such as I-5, I-405 or I-90. 

Part of a larger trend

As reporter Lisa Stiffler points out over at Sightline Daily, the Seattle-Bellevue area is not alone in this computerized experiment that promises you can get paid to carpool.  Similar ventures are underway in DC, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.  

And the New York Times' Green blog details a history of ride sharing that goes back at least to World War II, although in those days motivations were a bit different.  The Office of Price Administration put out a posterproclaiming, “When You Ride ALONE You Ride With Hitler!”  Not quite so here in Seattle, though many hopes are pinned on this new technology.


Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to