A Safe Hitchhiking Model?

(Photo: Holly Clarke)

(Photo: Holly Clarke)

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:

Here’s how it works: It starts with membership in the organization, Lawrence OnBoard.  Members will be able to sign up as riders and/or drivers; everyone will be registered and vetted.  Riders get a photo ID and a folding dry erase board branded with the club logo.  Riders can go to a safe roadside (we are mapping these), write their destination on the board, hold it up and catch a ride with any passing driver.  We’re also working on other security backups, a driver incentive program, a training manual and cell phone app. We are in research and development right now, but the results of the first 120 rides are astonishing.  Average wait time is under 7 minutes!

Lawrence OnBoard has been featured in various local news outlets and Kansas Public Radio.

Stephen Harbeck

Northern Virginia's suburbs of Washington have had organized commuter hitchhiking for decades. The purpose is to allow single drivers to pick up "slugs" in the morning to fill their cars, so as to use the High Occupancy Vehicle express lanes. There are a number of informally designated pickup spots. The process is reversed with drivers picking up southbound slugs in the evening on 14th Street.

To my knowledge there has never been a crime committed by either a slug or a driver, and this process has been going on since the 1970s. I no longer travel that route, but there is a website here:

Enter your name...

For a lot of people, "security" could be just taking a picture of the car/driver/hitchhiker on their cell phones.

Have you impressed the need for controlling the whiteboards upon everyone? Drivers might not know to ask for the IDs, and you don't want them to be stolen.


Sort of Uber without payment.

Florian Schmidt

A similar concept has been in use for a long time in Germany under the names "Mitfahrzentrale" or "Mitfahrgelegenheit". They were organised via bulletin boards at universities, before they adopted the web for bringing together drivers and riders. Using smartphones to do this is just the logical next step, bit not by any means a new idea IMHO.

Martin Ellinger

Fantastic progress Jenny.

I lived in Eastern Europe (rural Moldova) for two years a Peace Corps ('08-'10) volunteer and used hitchhiking constantly. I paid the equivalent of a bus ride for whatever route I was on, and met a lot of interesting characters along the way. They were always surprised to find a moldovan speaking American in their backseat, and chatting them up was a good way to win a free ride (and often free wine!!!). Every town and village had a specific spot where hitchhikers would wait depending on their destination so I'd have to chat the villagers up to get the scoop. Once in the vehicle there were unwritten rules. Women always got the front seat, you paid extra if you had luggage, if the driver didn't want to chat you left them alone, no loud phone conversations, if you were pulled over you had to act like you and the driver were old friends (because it's technically illegal in Moldova), never slam the door when leaving the car, and several other rules.

I got to ride in some pretty interesting vehicles:
1. Bread delivery trucks
2. Fish delivery trucks
3. A rickety ambulance returning from a call
4. A sidecar on a motorcycle
5. A horse drawn carriage
6. A police car
7. Many cabs that couldn't find actual fares

Long live Paputka!



Shane L

How cool that Jenny was inspired by Freakonomics!

Well I'm reminded a little by Martin's comment about the book "Hokkaido Highway Blues" by Will Ferguson, who hitchhiked from the southern tip of Japan to the northern tip, following the blooming of cherry blossom. If I remember correctly, practically every driver who gave him a lift lectured him on how dangerous it was, and practically every driver who gave him a lift was astonishingly helpful and thoughtful and kind.


Anything that can revive hitch hiking is a blessing. I was a hitch joker at 16.. later hitched around the country. My last venture in1974 __75 was to hitch from Florida to Alaska twice to work on the trans Alaskan pipeline. By 1976 American culture had changed and I had to go by other means. If anyone can figure an app.to promote hitchhiking they should get a presidents medal of honor.

would deserve a president's medal of honor


I wish that the statistics in this episode were split by gender. The only people who's spoke in this episode in favor of hitchhiking were men and I honestly being the risk factors are statically higher for women who hitchhike. Women are more likely to encounter violence while traveling and I'm disappointed that this was ignored in the episode as if the opportunity cost is the same for all people.