CarmaHop at TEDxKC

CarmaHop really must be an idea worth sharing, because I got invited this summer to give a TED talk at the Kauffman Center for TEDxKC!  The event on August 9th was called “Changing the Narrative” and my talk focused on how we can use the tools of the sharing economy to transform hitchhiking into a safe, easy and reliable form of ridesharing.  The Kansas City TEDx event is one of the oldest and largest in the world, and all three thousand plus seats at the Kauffman Center sold out in a matter of hours.  It was a major privilege to speak in front of this amazing crowd, and a powerful experience that I won’t soon forget.

New Website, New App

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Check it out! CarmaHop_-_Roadside_Ridesharing_for_Lawrence__KS_on_the_App_Store_on_iTunesMy brilliant teammates at Carma have built the first ever app for roadside ridesharing, and I can’t say enough how amazing it is.   With the app, users can:

  • Access a map of good locations to get a ride
  • Request a dry erase board
  • Record where the trip starts and ends, and who is driving
  • Invite new drivers to join the CarmaHop community
  • Send a message to another user
  • Invite friends through email and social media
  • Drivers and riders can give each other ratings and reviews

We’ll be rolling it out officially in a few weeks, but you can download it right now for free at the App store and Google Play.  You can also make an account right from the CarmaHop website.  Be sure to verify your phone and email, and you’ll be ready to pick up CarmaHop riders any time you see one. Some of you are very excited to get your own folding dry erase board and start sharing rides right from the roadside.  You’ll be happy to know that the boards will be ready by mid-September, and they are gorgeous!  The new version is made out of brushed aluminum, so it’s slim and light.  Our riders’ average wait time is still under 7 minutes, and we’re signing up more drivers every day who are eager to participate.

If you don’t live in or around Lawrence, Kansas, you can carpool with the regular Carma app.  See you on the road!

Thanks a lot, John Waters

I met John Waters in an elevator at the Lawrence Arts Center.  He was visiting as part of the William S. Burrroughs retrospective and had just given a lively and very raunchy talk.  I told him a little bit about the Lawrence OnBoard project and asked him to autograph one of my business cards.  Thanks for the autograph, John Waters.


Waters just published a book, Carsick, about his hitchhiking tour across America.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve heard several interviews, including one on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Even though the hitchhiking was a publicity stunt, Waters was very honest about the drivers who picked him up.  They were friendly, helpful and pretty much normal people.  That’s been my experience all along, backed up by numerous studies, so it’s nice to hear it echoed by a celebrity.  Thanks for affirming human nature, John Waters.

Of course he wouldn’t be John Waters if he didn’t put a kinky spin on the story.  The NPR interviewer asked if he was hoping for a hook-up:

“I was open to the idea. Everyone should be open to the idea of sex when they walk out of their house, I think. You don’t have to ever do it, but it makes life way more interesting if you fantasize and look at people and imagine their sex life and everything. I think that’s healthy. … I’m in that mindset as I walk out of the house every day.”

Unfortunately, I was listening to this interview on my way to test out a new location for Lawrence OnBoard- now Carma Hop.  While I held up my sign, I started thinking “Darn it, I hope nobody else heard that interview.  What if they think I’m looking for some action?  How embarrassing.”  Then, when a man in a panel van stopped and offered a ride, suddenly I felt a new and completely unwarranted level of alarm. “Did he hear that interview?  Is that what he thinks this is all about?”  Yeah, thanks a lot, John Waters.

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience getting in cars with strangers, so I hopped in anyway, and sure enough, the driver was gentlemanly and a good conversationalist.  He pumps over $100 in gas every week into his van and was excited about the idea of sharing rides, either through Roadside Ridesharing, or with the Carma Carpool app.

John Waters is 66 years old and saw the rise and fall of hitchhiking.  He still imagines it the same way many people do- a sketchy undertaking done only by serious adventurers and the desperate underclass of people who can’t afford a car.   But attitudes like his are not helpful if we want to change the conversation.  It’s imperative that we share our resources, especially our cars and the fuel that goes into them.  If a roadside approach is the best way to get there, then let’s embrace it and do all we can to make it safe, easy, reliable and maybe even a little bit boring.

My hope is that Waters’ adventure only serves to reinforce my point- that people are generally good, and asking for a ride is most likely to simply get you home.  A great outcome if you’re an ordinary commuter, but not so great if you’re a famous Hollywood director.  If Carsick helps spark a debate about our unthinking assumptions about riding with strangers, and that we need to start sharing rides, then I will say with sincerity and not a hint of sarcasm, “Thanks a lot, John Waters”.



New Name, New Look

I’m back from my trip to Ireland where I met with my brilliant teammates and hammered out a Power Up plan for the summer.  We are working toward putting all the elements in place for a soft launch at the end of September.  I already have a pared down version of the app loaded on my phone!

Even though the name Lawrence OnBoard is very close to my heart and makes me glow with civic pride whenever I say it, we all agreed that it needs a new name.  After all, this project is too awesome to limit to just one town.  Since the roadside ridesharing model will fit nicely with the successful Carma Carpool app, we wanted to use Carma in the name, but with something added that distinguishes it.  After much debate, head scratching and sleepless nights, we decided on Carma Hop.

CarmaHop Logo FINAL_Resize-01

Hop is fun and sassy.  It sounds like what it is: a spontaneous short trip.  Hop on in, gonna hop to work this morning.  We’re keeping the green color, but using the winged wheel logo.  The smarties at Carma even whipped together a pared down version of an app before I left for home.  It’s on my phone right now.

Once it’s up and running, anyone can download the app and create a user profile. We’ll have a map that shows good tested locations, and when you hop in a car, you just hit the “start trip” button.  A list of members pops up and you pick the person you’re riding with and that’s pretty much it.  When you are done, you hit “trip end”.  Your driver gets a small amount per mile to pay for gas, and you’ve made a new friend.  If the driver isn’t a member, you can enter some contact info, like phone or email.  The driver will get credit for the trip, and later gets a reminder to sign up.  We’re figuring out how to do all this with simple text messages as well.

CarmaHop App Icon

I’m meeting with city officials this month to finalize the permits, and we’re clobbering away on the new website.  Look for test riders in your area soon!

Game Changer for Lawrence OnBoard


_DSC9268Game changing news for Lawrence OnBoard- we’ve teamed up with Carma!

“Carma Carpooling is the simple smartphone app that introduces you to nearby people who want to share rides. Drivers receive small payments from riders towards their costs, and riders get an affordable, fun new commute option. Carma helps you improve your local community by reducing the number of cars on our roads.”

I’ve been following this company since I started Lawrence OnBoard, and was really impressed by their work and their mission.  Their apps for iPhone and Android have already matched enough carpool rides to get to the moon.  (That’s right- the MOON!)  They have a savvy business model, loads of experience and a global reach.  And, they have an adorable video that you can watch right here.
I met up with Carma founder, Sean O’Sullivan, at the TRB conference in January, and he thought our Roadside Ridesharing model would be a versatile, low-tech complement to the Carma app.  They want to develop the concept, implement it here in Lawrence, then take it-not just national, but global.  Now I’m getting ready to fly to Ireland, meet the team and hammer away at a a new plan to take Lawrence OnBoard and make it soar!


Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day! Springtime means research time for Lawrence OnBoard, and we need YOUR help to bring smarter transportation solutions to our community. Don’t let our precious natural landscape get paved over to make room for more and more cars. Let’s work to build safe, smart ways to share rides, get more cars off the roads, reduce pollution and CO2 and build a stronger community.

City Commissioners will approve changes to the traffic code tonight, and soon Lawrence OnBoard researchers will be hitting the road. Our goals for this season are to find and test the optimal locations for roadside ridesharing in Lawrence and the surrounding communities and to see if riders of all ages, sizes, races and genders can get rides quickly, and we’ll look for the effects of the past year’s worth of press coverage on the average wait time. We’ll also line up some regular users for a long term study.

The recent TEDxFulbright Challenge has put Lawrence OnBoard in the national spotlight. The four finalists got a full five minutes on the TED stage and the video will soon be up on the TED website. In the last months, Lawrence OnBoard has been featured in Sharable Magazine, Greenability, the Lawrence Journal-World and KKFI’s EcoRadio. We’re writing posts for Mobility Lab and Fast Company. All this publicity is fantastic, but now it’s time to prove that Northeast Kansas really is the frontrunner for innovative transportation solutions. For the 2014 research season, we need more ride boards, printing and stamps for surveys, gas money, a dedicated phone line, a new website, a photo ID maker, background checks and thank-you gifts for volunteers. Director Jenny O’Brien has quit her day job in order to coordinate the research. Now we need your contribution to fund the critical next step. Click on this link and make a contribution to our RocketHub crowdfunding campaign.  Together we can create sustainable transportation in our community, and across America!


TEDxFulbright and RocketHub

Lawrence OnBoard is pleased to announce that we made the final four in the TEDxFulbright Social Innovation Challenge!  I traveled to Washington DC this past weekend and pitched the project on a genuine TED stage!  The video should be up in a couple of weeks.  Sorry to say, we didn’t win the challenge, but the experience was great, and I make some good connections.

The RocketHub Campaign is still going strong.  Please consider making a donation by clicking on this link. Every little bit helps.  We are working to raise $25,000 for the 2014 research season, and also to leverage grant money to launch a pilot.  Several local artists and musicians have contributed work as thank-you gifts for funders.  There are lots of unique items like a letterpress print of a poem by Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Miriam-Goldberg and a frame-able artwork by folk artist Toni Brou, not to mention some fine handmade cups by yours truly.



Get Lawrence OnBoard on a TED stage!

Obrienimage1Big news this week for Lawrence OnBoard.  We just got nominated as one of 8 semifinalists for the TEDxFulbright Social Innovation Challenge!  Part of the challenge involves leveraging my network (that’s YOU) to vote for Lawrence OnBoard and more importantly, to help raise some funds to give the project momentum.  The top vote/fund getter will automatically progress to the finals and those final four get to pitch their project on the TED stage in Washington DC.  The winner gets the support of the TED and Fulbright communities and some other fine prizes.  Finalists will be announced March 26th.  You can check out our RocketHub campaign here and vote for Lawrence OnBoard here, and see the Lawrence OnBoard video here. 

We are working to raise $25,000 for the 2014 season, and also to leverage grant money to the tune of $90,000 to launch a pilot and run it for two years.  So, a small contribution is the little seed that grows and produces even more funding.  Several local artists and musicians have contributed work as thank-you gifts for funders.  There are lots of unique items like a letterpress print of a poem by Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Miriam-Goldberg and a frame-able artwork by folk artist Toni Brou, not to mention some fine handmade cups by yours truly.

This year will be the tipping point that decides if Lawrence OnBoard will actually become a reality, so please contribute what you can.  And look for us on the TED stage in Washington DC!


Leap Of Faith

magwebLawrence OnBoard has been a little quiet this month.  That’s because I’ve been busy closing down my business of 18 years so I can devote all my time to this new amazing project. This is an enormous leap of faith, but so was the first time I stood by the roadside with my ride board, hoping somebody would pick me up, and we know how spectacularly that turned out!

A preacher-man staying at our house last month said that Jesus would probably include “drive the stranded” as a modern work of mercy right up there with “feed the hungry” and “heal the sick”.  He is a pastor in a small town in Nebraska, so he understands that  access to transportation is no longer a luxury, but is absolutely essential for full participation in modern life.  We expect people who barely scrape by on minimum wage to spend thousands every year to own and maintain a car just so they can get to work.  That is a heavy burden and  ties up money that could be spent on a better quality of life.  But if those same households had an option so they can go car free, or drive their cars less, that would free up a significant amount of household resources.  Something else that my preacher friend remarked on is that anyone can participate in Roadside Ridesharing as riders or drivers or both.  Giving a ride is an easy, cheap and safe opportunity to do real good for another human being.  We don’t get those opportunities very often, which is a shame since helping others makes us better people.

This month I will head to Newton, KS for the Big Rural Brainstorm where I plan to network with big thinkers from around the state about transportation issues.  In the meantime, keep an eye out for the latest issue of Greenability Magazine which features Yours Truly for the Greenability Challenge!  Thanks to editor Julie Koppen who made it happen.  Oh, and one more thing:  We got a shout-out on the Freakonomics Radio blog!