Should There Be a Hitchhiking Renaissance?

Want to save the planet? Maybe you should consider hitchhiking. (Photo: via Flickr)

One of the greatest transportation resources out there is… your backseat. According to a U.S. Department of Transportation report, the average vehicle commuting to and from work has only 1.1 people it. This means that about 80 percent of car capacity goes unused. In a moment when we’re worrying about gas consumption and carbon emissions, this is a lamentable inefficiency.

This week on Marketplace, Stephen J. Dubner suggests an old-time solution to this present-day problem: hitchhiking. Hear Freakonomics co-author and University of Chicago economist Steve Levitt explain how our fears chilled the hitchhiking market; transportation scholar Alan Pisarski talk about how thumbing for a ride became unnecessary; and if Dubner can talk host Kai Ryssdal into picking up a few strangers on his daily commute.

Here’s where you can find Marketplace on the radio near you.

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  1. Swintah says:

    I will not sacrifice my personal safety for broader economic efficiency. A trillionth of a percent (or whatever) increase in GDP is not worth it.

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  2. Caleb b says:

    I still pick people up, but only those that aren’t soliciting a ride. Plus, I’m very judgmental about who I pick up. If they look dirty, I keep driving, but if they look like they’re walking to work and i have time, I’ll offer to drive them.

    I live in mid-major city with limited public transportation (only buses).

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  3. Tylerl says:

    Isn’t there a liability issue, too? If I pick up a hitchhiker and then get in an accident, am I then liable for any injury the hitchhiker sustains? Can’t the hitchhiker sue me?

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  4. Impossibly Stupid says:

    Although I have heard there is a “market” for it around DC (and probably other congested cities with high capacity lanes), what rider wants to risk their job by starting their commute with no reliable schedule for arrival? A far, far better suggestion would be to use the technology we have at our disposal to properly arrange ride sharing programs, and/or completely overhaul public transportation for better efficiency. A little advance planning is all it takes to eliminate the fear/uncertainty of both the driver and the rider.

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  5. Juan Camilo Cardenas says:

    In Bogotá, a city of 8 million with crime rates of a typical latin american city, thinking of hitchhiking would multiply the scare factor by a large number. However, if we create a “hitchhiking-by-appointment” system, you can make a reservation for those available seats and car-pool to work or school. In a research project at our university (Universidad de Los Andes) we developed a car-pool system where students, faculty and staff report their routes and people sign-up for a ride. Since october of 2010 until now, the page has received 83,400 visits, connecting hundreds of drivers and passangers sharing those empty seats from all over the city to the campus and back. Fear has been a major concern, though. However, strangers are already picking up strangers. The only extra information is that the other stranger works or studies at the same university. Is that enough to eliminate the fear Levitt is talking about? Time will tell.

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  6. Caleb b says:


    Yeah, I’ll assume you’re a woman. I’ll give you a little heads up, women don’t walk to work. Not in my city.

    You know who does walk to work? poor guys. And when it’s raining, or 100 degrees outside….they are never creeped out. Ever.

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  7. Terry says:

    The Hitcher…. starring Rutger Hauer.

    … no thanks.

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  8. econobiker says:

    I know that new age hitch hiking works in areas with defined commutes, bad traffic, and HOV lanes to allow drivers and hitchers symbiotic relationship of a faster drive and free transport- Washington DC is a prime example of this.

    Only if more US states allow concealed weapon carry permits, should hitch hiking make a comeback.

    Maybe if there was an approved safety system within which to to do hitch hiking it would work. Such as you had a hitch hiker card that you would hold up next to your face so that the car driver could take and send your picture to a central storage website/phone number and the hitcher could do the same for the car driver.

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