New ride-sharing app connects students traveling to same destination

Kimberly Go, Reporter

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CabEasy, a ride-sharing app that recently launched at Northwestern, hopes to lower transportation costs for students by connecting them with other members of the university community going to the same destination.

The smartphone application allows users to create a ride to one of the preset destinations, or join a ride that’s already been made. The cost of the cab decreases when more people join a ride.

“The idea is to get people who are going in the same direction to say, ‘Okay, Person X who is from Northwestern is also going this direction. Why don’t we cut the cost of this cab ride in half or even more … and just do this together for 20 minutes and save some money and maybe have a pleasant conversation?’” said Eric Goldwyn, CabEasy’s director of planning and policy.

The creator of the ride, or “pioneer,” calls a cab using Sidecar, a different ride-sharing app, once all riders have gathered at the departure location. Other riders will be asked to use the Venmo app to pay the pioneer through the CabEasy app.

Because CabEasy is a closed network, only members of the NU community can join by signing up with their school-affiliated email. This way, riders won’t feel like they are riding with complete strangers, Goldwyn said.

NU was a natural pick for CabEasy’s pilot program, co-founder Jonathan McKinney said. In 2013, he was approached by NU’s Associated Student Government for a transportation initiative. McKinney had created CabCorner in 2010, a ride-sharing app in New York designed to match residents looking to share taxis, and ASG asked McKinney to customize a similar platform for NU.

“I built this pretty basic web-based platform for ride-sharing and found that over the course of the next few months, students were using the platform for mostly rides to the airport,” McKinney said. “We found that to be a great harbinger of success in expanding the platform to potentially other schools.”

However, there were technical issues with the software that slowed down CabEasy’s momentum.

“We were working with a clunky website, it wasn’t very good on mobile, and we also weren’t perfectly integrated into the taxicabs that were in Evanston.”

After ASG transitioned its members, the new students were not as eager to take up the transportation initiative. McKinney shut the project down — at least temporarily.

In the summer 2014, McKinney was able to get a deal with Sidecar, a transportation network company that operates in Chicago.

“I opened up the idea again that we could go back to Northwestern now with a vertically integrated system into cabs,” he said. “It wasn’t just about being able to match people, but it was now the capability to match people and put them in a car at the same time.”

McKinney first decided to launch CabEasy at Northwestern “quietly” during NU’s spring break, getting some students to sign up and give feedback on what could be improved, such as the user-friendliness of the platform and the convenience of the preset pick-up locations. He said an official launch is set for later in Spring Quarter.

Although CabEasy has not seen the amount of users its founders expected since the app went live, McKinney said he realizes the app may become more valuable to students toward the end of the quarter when they are going to the airport.

“We’re ramping up a bit of messaging and looking to essentially be on campus towards the end of this month, early next month, to really do an outreach to get students to try and use CabEasy,” he said.

McKinney added he is in the process of introducing the app to other universities.

Weinberg freshman Natalie Ser, who uses Uber, said the app seems like a good idea.

“I think I would use it, especially for long rides like going to the airport,” she said. “You see a lot of Facebook posts like, ‘Who’s going to O’Hare at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday?’ and I think it would be a little more efficient with the app.”

Goldwyn said CabEasy is not trying to compete with other transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft.

“We think that those are all great services and that students really like them, but they don’t organize sharing in the best way possible,” he said. “We feel that with CabEasy, since we’re only operating at university campuses, we are making the sharing experience as easy and accessible as possible.”

He added that looking forward, he would like to expand CabEasy to other schools in the Chicago area, then expand to other markets such as in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and even Seattle.

“We have an idea of what type of schools are good for requiring a cab-sharing network … but we won’t really seek to expand all that until most likely the end of the next academic year.”