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.


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.

Caleb b

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).


I can think of nothing creepier than a guy pulling up, unsolicited, and asking me if I want a ride. Nothing.


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?

Impossibly Stupid

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.

Juan Camilo Cardenas

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.


Caleb b


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.


The Hitcher.... starring Rutger Hauer.

... no thanks.


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.



Stephen is on to something here.

I finished hitchhiking the USA for a year and had a great time. I love it!

I am not scared of people... if I don't feel good about a ride, I don't take it. People are not that bad.


My younger son came up with a great hitchhiking strategy when he was working at a summer camp. He would get occasional days off, and he'd want to spend them with friends in a nearby town, but had no transportation. So he bought a plastic gasoline jerry-can. He cut a small rectangle out of one side of the top of the can, and that was his overnight suitcase. Catch is, when he'd be at the side of the road with a gas can, people would think he'd run out of gas, and were perfectly willing to pick him up and help him out. Then, when he'd explain what his gimmick was, they'd laugh at his creativity.

Jean Andre Vallery

I'm trying to spread the word about the beauty of hitch hiking. I still hitch hike. visit my website dawgrunner dot word press dot com


The fact is that front page news stories about violence,danger, etc are for the most part rare. For example the amount of people that are fatalities in car crashes in a month are far more than the body count of train crashes in a year. Its the same with the rare hitch hiker meets with violence from person who picked him/her up. the same thing goes for personals meet ups: a bad incident is rare.

I hitch hiked alone from the east coast to the west coast and back without one bad ride. thats about 4,000 miles in the USA. This was during the late 197o's when there was a higher risk, imho, in hitchiking. The ironic thing that me, the hippie back then, got more rides from your run of the mill families, salesman, etc and hardly got any rides from fellow "freaks". Usually they would just honk there horn and pass me bye...thanks bros, not.