It’s a daily struggle. I suppose many of us can imagine our wallets emptying as we pay for gas, insurance, and parking, or feel the cramps in our legs as we march back and forth between the relocated bus stops.

One alternative (besides moving into residence) is carpooling.

I know what you’re thinking: if you or your friends don’t own a car, how on earth do you find a reliable stranger who just happens to go to UTM every day and who will agree to drive you? This is where BlancRide comes in.

BlancRide is a carpooling app available to students at UTM, York, and UOIT. It has been developed by a global team of more than 30 people. Five UTM students joined the team: Mishal Arif, Ahmad Khan, Teri Elizabeth Fallowfield, Jenny Pan, and Zehra Ramsha.

These five didn’t know each other when they entered the ENV332 course together last fall. “Three of us were waitlisted, so we all formed a group together as we were the last to enter the course,” says Arif, a fifth-year environmental management student. At the end of the course they presented their idea for a carpool prototype app that would reduce UTM’s collective carbon footprint.

In the course, taught by Monika Havelka, students work on an environmental project on campus or in the area. The five brainstormed topics from food to cars to parking. “We’re all environmental students, so we thought, why not help address the issue of cars on campus? Our parking lots are really full—so how can we decrease the number of cars?” says Arif. “We also wanted to do something that was feasible that we could leave on campus after we graduate this year.”

Before they could move on to the design stage, the group approached students face-to-face to gauge their interest in carpooling. “We did surveying around the bus stop and around the parking spots to get responses from both commuters and student drivers,” says Fallowfield, a fourth-year double major in environmental management and physical geography. They found that very few people were aware of the carpooling service provided by the Transportation Office, whereas about 40% would use a carpooling app. “It was more than we expected,” says Fallowfield. “I feel like it’s hard to change people’s attitudes about carpooling.”

Even after the course had finished, the team wasn’t done. “We still wanted to take it further. We were a good team, we had a carpool app prototype and we had the power to make this happen,” says Khan. “But we didn’t have the money or the coding expertise.”

The group did some research online and found an article about a similar app that had recently been released. They made contact and realized that they had a similar concept, so the two groups merged. Initially the five UTM students had called themselves “Miles for Smiles”, but they are now a part of BlancRide. The five students lead the campaign for the UTM campus.

They are currently involved with outreach and promotion for the app while it undergoes open beta testing. Meanwhile, they face the prospect of competing with popular apps like Uber. They explained that Uber’s drivers make a profit, whereas with Blancride they are only sharing the cost of the ride with the passenger. Blancride as a whole is a for-profit company, however.

BlancRide, which is available for iOS and Android, has an elegant interface. The drivers’ verification includes their car information, a credit check, and other checks. After that, drivers simply select their pick-up and drop-off points, and BlancRide handles the matching. Both passengers and drivers have the chance to view each other’s rating and profiles before agreeing to a ride.

What I particularly like about the app is that it eliminates the hassle of bargaining; fare rates are calculated beforehand and are affordable, too. “Generally, within Mississauga, it’s no more than $5,” says Fallowfield. “When you get a little further into Toronto or Oakville, it goes up to $7 to $8 and that’s GO train rates right there.

“We have some students who commute from Thornhill and Vaughan, so this is definitely a good option for commuters who have to cover long distances daily,” he added.

BlancRide plans to improve their service at UTM before expanding elsewhere.

This article has been corrected.
  1. March 17, 2015 at 4 p.m.: The five UTM students did not create the BlancRide app but joined a team that was doing so, and BlancRide is for-profit, among other mistakes.

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