Co-op rideshare site offers students carpooling access

By Melissa Kenyon and Stephanie Moran

When Ventz Petkov was traveling back and forth to his first co-op at Harvard University, he wished there was an easier way to commute.

So he created one.

Under the direction of engineering co-op coordinator Dr. Steven Kane, Petkov, a junior computer science major, designed Co-op Rideshare, a website that helps co-op students form carpooling networks.

“So many students go to the same place without even knowing it,” Petkov said. “But why should both people drive, when one person can one day and the other the next?”

The site, launched on myNEU in November, works two ways: the first for drivers seeking passengers, and the second for passengers seeking transportation.

Drivers offering rides post listings, where their cars depart from and their destination, Petkov said. Drivers can also add personal preferences, like how much they will charge for gas money, he said.

Passengers seeking rides can either scan the entire database or narrow their search by entering keywords into the search engine, Petkov said.

In case a passenger’s search returns no results, Petkov initiated the “Passenger Watch List,” which allows a passenger to post his or her destination and be informed by e-mail if a post matches the criteria.

Although the feature is temporarily under construction, the database will also provide Google Maps of each destination posted.

Co-op Rideshare was the brainchild of Kane, who saw many of his students losing job opportunities because they simply couldn’t find ways to get there.

“There are a lot of great jobs out on [Interstate] 495 and 128 but because of the driving situation, it was really becoming difficult,” he said.

From there Petkov, Kane’s work study of three years, produced the website in less than three months, which he said is no small task.

“You have to put this in perspective. This was not created by a team of software developers, but by a student who sat outside my office on his iBook, typing away,” Kane said. “And if I sound proud, it’s because I am.”

The two had a working prototype by April, which they turned over to Northeastern’s Information Services to implement on myNEU.

“The university realized what we had here and took Ventz’s prototype, changed very little and put it on the screen,” Kane said.

The site is managed by Information Services, and the service itself is overseen by Co-op Connections manager Sonya Mariotti. Kane said Mariotti, “really got the university to see [the] benefit of doing it. She spoke up and got people to listen.”

Kane and Petkov said they hope more students will take advantage of the site in the future, and for one student who has used Co-op Rideshare, the site has proven a valuable service.

Josh Brunn, a sophomore engineering major, posted a ride on the site in November. A week into his co-op job the site matched him with another student who drove to Wilmington. They now carpool.

“It’s a good resource to help pay for an expense I would have to take on alone, and it helps the environment because there aren’t as many cars on the road,” Brunn said. “It also cuts down on commuting with the commuter rail and a scheduled train time, so if you miss a train it’s not the end of the world.”

According to MBTA.com the cost for a monthly commuter rail pass ranges from $59 – $250. If more students carpool and combine forces to pay for gas, they will save money, Petkov said.

Cari Street, a sophomore chemistry major who plans to co-op in Albany, N.Y., also said the Co-op Rideshare Database could help students find cheap transportation.

Street, who will drive to work, said if there are other co-op students in Albany she would carpool, as long as everyone contributed to gas.

Justin Nguyen, a middler computer engineering major, drives every day to his job in Waltham. Although, he said carpooling is economically efficient, Nguyen does not carpool with his fellow co-ops because their schedules are never the same.

“Sometimes we have to go in early and sometimes we have to stay late,” he said, therefore, carpooling would be inconvenient for him.

Brunn said he thought there should be legal protection for drivers in case of an accident, and suggests a contract be drawn up by the Co-op Connections office that would cover “lawsuits, insurance purposes and some cost for the car, like gas and parking in Boston.”

A disclaimer on the Rideshare website states the university is not responsible for ensuring the quality or licensing of participating drivers, and is not liable for claims or damages including vehicle damage of personal injury.

Mariotti said the site went through the university legal department before it was posted on myNEU.

The site is safer than using carpooling options through venues like Craigslist because instead of taking rides with a stranger, only Northeastern students can post and orchestrate rides, she said.

“Students are using it with students,” Mariotti said. “If an issue or problem [arose], as Co-op Connections we would help, but students are using it at their own will.”

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