With spring break coming up, many students will be looking for rides home to their families. The Cal Poly Ride Share Facebook page is sure to be full of people offering trips. So full, in fact, that ride offerings may get buried under mounds of other posts.
Computer science graduate student Vanessa Forney and software engineering senior Myra Lukens have a plan to circumvent the logjam: a free smartphone app called Poly Rides, born out of Cal Poly classes and designed to organize rides based upon location, among other factors.
“I just want to make ride sharing easier,” Forney said. “There (are) all these people who don’t have rides home and they actually have to go through the effort to find one … I just want to help Cal Poly students make their lives easier.”
The Cal Poly Ride Share Facebook group, which now has more than 12,000 members, was founded by former Cal Poly student Jayne Ellis in 2011. Ellis helped Lukens and Forney with general ideas and concepts learned from building the page into what it is now.
“I created the page as a freshman, and I didn’t have a car,” Ellis said. “I knew a lot of other people who didn’t have (cars), and I just wanted to try and create an easier way for students to travel. A lot of students have cars, so it would be easier and more energy-efficient if people could carpool their rides.”
The Facebook layout pushes old posts or posts with no activity to the bottom of the page. Because many students use the group and numerous posts are made on a normal weekend, finding the right ride can be inconvenient and time-consuming.
Security issues exist as well. The Ride Share group is public, meaning that anyone with a Facebook account can see it, including people unaffiliated with Cal Poly.
Forney and Lukens designed Poly Rides with the problems in mind, hoping to find a safer, easier way for people to find rides.
“We want to keep it simple and straightforward,” Forney said. “We don’t want to overcomplicate things and make people confused about ride sharing. A lot of people use the Facebook group because it’s really simple; all you have to do is post and talk to people. So essentially, we want the same functionality with the added benefits of being able to find rides within a certain day, so it will actually be easier to find rides.”
Lukens and Forney began creating the app during Winter 2015 for an iOS app development class. As users of the Ride Share group, they decided to make an app as a continuation of the group; it will allow students to coordinate rides more efficiently.
They continued to work on the app after the class ended and first released it in the App Store in September 2015. Now also available in Google Play, Poly Rides currently has more than 2,500 downloads.
Some features of the app include Facebook integration, in-app messaging, autocomplete through Google and a map displaying the destination of the drivers.
Other travel options, like flying and taking Amtrak trains, exist for students without a car. But a United Airlines flight from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles costs $170-300, and a similar train ride costs about $40 — and takes longer than driving in a car.
Rides on the ride share page can be anywhere from $10-25, depending on the distance travelled, vehicle’s fuel efficiency, number of passengers and driver’s generosity.
Last November, Lukens and Forney participated in the Elevator Pitch Competition, where students of all majors shared product ideas, innovative services or a startup plan at any stage of development. Poly Rides won the Audience’s Choice Award and received $675, which has been used to advertise the app with flyers, posters and T-shirts.
Lukens and Forney are planning to add more features, such as Cal Poly email verification, reviews for both drivers and passengers and women-only rides.
“We’re by no means done,” Lukens said. “We’re actually just beginning.”