By Jesse Lewis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
Students can use Web site to go home without going for broke
Because of a Florida State University student's entrepreneurial brainchild, UA students can avoid paying the high costs of shuttle or bus rides home by networking with other students traveling to the same destinations.
Homeboundnetwork.com is a free online service that matches students who need rides with those who are already driving to the same town.
Drivers and riders sign up and are matched together depending on their destination. The rider pays as little as 2 cents a mile for the ride, be it on a weekend or holiday.
Participants have the option to specify the gender of riders they accept.
The UA is on the network and Brennan Dunn, president of the Homebound Network, said he expects students to use it to get home for the upcoming holidays.
Dunn began working on developing the Homebound Network in December 2003, when he was freshman at Florida State University. He saw the need for service that would be more effective than posting fliers on bulletin boards, and keeps the service exclusively to students.
It wasn't until an article was printed in the FSView, the FSU campus paper, in March that the service became popular.
"A lot of people get claustrophobic on campus and the service helps them find an easy way to get home or wherever," Dunn said.
The service charges 3.5 cents per mile for trips less than 300 miles, 2.75 cents per mile for trips between 300 and 600 miles, and every other distance is 2 cents per mile, according to the company's Web site.
The service allows the driver to carry up to six passengers, unless they are driving a bus or other high-capacity vehicle, which is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The Homebound Network is not exclusively for homeward-bound students though. Some use it for general transportation to destinations ordinarily serviced by a shuttle or bus.
"People use it to go to concerts with other students; it's not just for going home," Dunn said.
There are about 800 students on the network from seven schools across the country. While the database includes 2,000 campuses, only students at University of Southern California, Ohio State University, FSU, John Hopkins University in Maryland, St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Penn State, and the University of Wisconsin are actively using the service.
Dunn said the majority of users are traveling within the state, but it depends on the state.
"A lot of schools with really good in-state tuition generally use the service in-state, and smaller private schools are often going out-of-state," Dunn said.
Students in New England travel state-to-state, but that is to be expected given the area being traveled, Dunn said.
Dunn said he has not heard any complaints or had any drivers get in accidents while using the service.
The driver receives payment, which is calculated according to distance traveled, driver rating, amount of passengers, and credit card fees.
The driver does not receive payment until 24 hours have passed since the return date of the trip.
The average cost for a trip is $25, but varies depending on mileage traveled. The driver receives $22 of this, after various processing costs are paid, Dunn said.
All payments are done through Paypal, an online payment service, and unless a student informs the company or the driver at least one day in advance that he or she cannot not make it, the student is charged.
Ashley Kimel, a business freshman, said she thinks the service is a good idea but she doesn't know if she would use it or not.
"I'd almost be uncomfortable getting in a car with someone I don't know," Kimel said.
Dunn said he encourages riders to contact drivers before a trip to meet each other and establish a sense of trust.
Tara Williams, a business freshman, said she thinks the gender exclusivity is a good idea, especially for girls.
"If you are a girl, you don't want to get in a car with a guy you don't know," Williams said.
Andrew Hay, a computer science junior, is a Tucson native but spent a semester at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, which has a similar service.
"It worked really well. If you are going more than out-of-city, it's a big advantage. If I came from out-of-state and I didn't know anybody, it would be a real benefit," Hay said.
The site also features a franchise option because Dunn is looking for student representatives at each school to post advertisements for the service. The students would be paid a fraction of each trip completed and advertising materials would be sent to the representatives free of charge.