A Safe Hitchhiking Model?

Our podcast called "Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?" got a listener named Jenny O'Brien thinking. Here's what she wrote us:

Here's the back story: I live in a rural area in Northeast Kansas, where there is no bus, so I am forced to drive all the time.  After I heard your podcast, I started thinking about how to make hitchhiking safe, easy and reliable so I and other rural residents can use it as a public transportation option. I figured that all the hitchhiker really needed was a credential, way to signal her destination, and a system to record who she is riding with for safety.

O'Brien is now in the process of founding a ride-sharing service called Lawrence OnBoard:

You Never Know Who Listens to the Same Podcast as You

A podcast listener named Susan Guttentag, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, writes in to say:

I was compelled to email you after the following incident on our recent visit to Whitefish, Montana.  My husband and I had finished a terrific bike trip through Glacier and Waterton Parks, and we were spending a couple of extra days in Whitefish, a very lovely town in the Flathead River Valley. We noticed that there was a terrific hike to the top of the local ski resort on Big Mountain and decided to venture out. Sadly, the trail starting point was a hefty distance away -- too far to tack onto what proved to be a 4 h hike to the top-- but the lodge did not provide shuttle service to this area.  My husband suggested that we -- wait for it -- hitchhike!  In nearly 53 years on the planet, I had never once hitchhiked but my husband is 6'3" so I thought "why not?" I had listened to your podcast on hitchhiking and was somewhat comforted by the data.

An Incentive to Hitchhike

Our "Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?" podcast poked into various reasons for the decline of hitchhiking, including rising car ownership and the feature of strangers.

A Wall Street Journal article now highlights one scenario where hitchhiking is on the rise: at the George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey and New York. The rise in hitchhiking (or, really, carpooling) is driven by a desire to escape the GWB's high toll: vehicles carrying three or more passengers get a $6 toll discount.  "There are no official meeting points or matching services for carpoolers," writes Spencer Jakab.  "So drivers approach the bridge and pick up pedestrians at a bus stop just before the toll plaza, giving a free ride to two commuters who would otherwise pay $2.00 to take a jitney into town."

FREAK-est Links

1. Is a new cut of steak worthy of a patent? (HT: Eric M. Jones)

2. First there were metrosexuals; now meet the urban datasexual. (HT: Jeff Bladt)

3. Is flopping a problem in the NBA?

4. Fighter pilot Mary Cummings explains robotic crop dusting.

5. Corporate takeovers: they trim the fat, including corporate jets.

6. Does the ability to feel guilt make for great leaders?

7. Evidence that director John Waters still hitchhikes.

Hitchhiking Gets a Hearing in D.C.

Inspired by our podcast “Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?,” transportation scholar Alan Pisarksi organized a discussion session on the topic at the recent Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.  Pisarski, who was also featured in our episode, hoped the event would encourage scholars to apply insights from the past to current issues in transportation policy.

The Power of the President — and the Thumb

Season 2, Episode 3

In this episode we ask a simple, heretical question: How much does the President of the United States really matter? Stephen Dubner talks to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, economists Austan Goolsbee and Justin Wolfers, and constitutional scholar Bernadette Meyler about how the President’s actual influence can be measured. And Steve Levitt weighs in on how the President shapes the nation.

Also in this episode, we look at another supposed truism: hitchhiking is terribly dangerous. But is that really true?

The Freakonomics Guide to Hitchhiking: A Contest

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast "Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?" has a pretty obvious premise. You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed or read the transcript here.

What may not be super obvious to everyone out there is the meaning of the graphic above. So let's play name that reference and throw in some swag for good measure!

We haven't forgotten that your preferred method of giveaway is “random," and we've had a contest before on this blog where the prize is contingent on your comment number. So here's how it's going to work this time: the 42nd comment will win if it bears the correct answer. If comment 42 has the wrong answer, the winning number doubles and the 84th comment will win -- but again, only if the answer is correct. The winning number will triple, quadruple, etc. until we get a winner.

So tell us, what does 42 signify and where is it from? Hint: the title of this post.

How the Internet Is Restoring the Market for Hitchhiking

In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, "Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone," we looked at how hitchhiking is essentially a market. Specifically, as Levitt puts it, it's a "matching market" where supply (a person who's willing to give a ride) matches up with demand (a person who needs a ride) in natural equilibrium. Over time, that equilibrium, as facilitated by people thumbing on the sides of roads, eventually vanished.

But the supply remained; actually it increased -- as the average number of passengers in a car during the work commute went from 1.3 in 1977, to 1.1 today. (Click here for more data.) And as gas prices have steadily risen, and the economy flat-lined, the demand has seemingly come back. Enter the Internet as the new facilitator.

As many of you have pointed out in emails and comments, an entire online ecosystem of ride-sharing ventures has cropped up in the last few years. So here are the highlights: