Tripda: Using Your Thumbs to Get a Ride in the Smartphone Generation

Would you take a long-distance ride with a stranger?

teens in convertible joy ride

Hitchhikers, rejoice: No longer must those poor souls looking for rides chill on the side of the road with their thumb in the air. Instead, put your thumbs to better use with new-to-the-US ride sharing app Tripda, which connects both those needing a ride and those offering one.

Tripda 101

Tripda is a global company, currently operating in 13 countries. Also a quickly growing company, they have over seventy thousand users, and average one hundred and fifty thousand searches for rides per month. In November of this past year, Tripda landed in the US. And just last week was big for the company: the LA Times reported that Tripda has raised $11 million in venture capital—news that came two days after one of their competitors, Zimride, announced it would stop serving the general public.

Quoted spoke to Tripda co-founder Adi Vaxman, who describes the company as a “genuine ride-sharing platform,” as opposed to the peer-to-peer networks like Uber and Lyft in which one person becomes a taxi service. Instead, Tripda helps people making similar trips connect. Not only do drivers find someone to help defray trip costs, and passengers find someone to bring them where they need to go, Vaxman says both can feel good about reducing pollution and traffic, as well. Vaxman uses Tripda herself when she drives from her home in New Jersey into Manhattan for work. Most days, she says, she offers a spot in her car and she tells us, “It’s always been a good experience.” We asked Vaxman what her usual protocol is when finding a passenger for her car: “I usually get on the phone with them and ask a few generic get-to-know-you questions like, where do you work? Where are you from?” She says that she can get a feel for the person from their answers—whether they’re genuine, whether they would be an affable companion for her commute. Vaxman has even connected with a few people she didn’t know she knew—friends of friends, etc.

Why Vaxman Thinks Tripda Will Take Off in the U.S.

That Vaxman practices what the company preaches speaks to her faith in Tripda’s potential. “It’s all about getting people used to the idea,” she says—the same way people became comfortable with Airbnb, or online dating. Asked what she would say to a potential user worried about the safety of traveling with a relative stranger, Vaxman carefully distinguishes between actual safety and the illusion of safety. “Unfortunately,” she says, “the truth is—and I say this as a mother of three young children—you never really know one hundred percent who is safe and who isn’t. Even your best friend’s husband might be dangerous. But, how do we come to feel safe with people? We get to know them.”

It's all about people getting used to the idea of sharing a ride with a stranger.

And to that end, Tripda has created multiple tools for users to get to know their potential ride sharers: Users sign in with Facebook and can see the profiles of their matches. Community affiliations (such as work and school) are noted, and reviews left by other riders are featured prominently. Users can even chat with each other on the app, or call or email each other—steps Vaxman strongly encourages. Though Tripda does not do background checks on users (we can see those eyebrows rising from over here), nor verify things like insurance or drivers licenses, they do verify several other pieces of information, and they encourage passengers to ask for proof of insurance and driver’s license.

The Tripda interface.
The Tripda interface.

Since Tripda is not an on-demand driving service, and passengers are getting rides in cars that would be making the trip anyway, insurance works the same as it would if someone gave a ride to their friend or neighbor. Some verifications Tripda does employ: They ensure all emails and telephone numbers are linked to real people, and Tripda also verifies the authenticity of community affiliations. For users who choose to pay with Tripda’s payment system, all credit card and bank account information are of course also verified. Their biggest safety tools, says Vaxman, are the user ratings and reviews, which add another layer to each user’s reputation.

Passengers are getting rides in cars that would be making the trip anyway.

Though Tripda is not responsible for arranging rides or setting prices, on their website they do note that if there is a dispute between two parties, they will moderate and find a solution. We asked Vaxman how often disputes happen, and how resolutions are found: “That’s easy,” she says, “it’s never happened.” Yes, she offers, there have been disputes regarding user reviews, and they have had to remove inappropriate language, but so far the community experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Tripda offers suggestions regarding what fee a driver might charge, mostly based on mileage, but ultimately it’s up to the driver to set the price, which potential passengers can then negotiate, if they wish. For now, Tripda does not charge a fee for their services, and Vaxman says the company is currently focused on building the community and helping people connect. Asked when Tripda might start charging a fee, Ms. Vaxman told us, “not anytime in the near future.”

Tripda is Easy to Use

The app itself is user-friendly, with trendy icons indicating the driver’s preferences for their passenger’s behavior with stop-light ease: green conversation bubbles mean “I’m big on conversation!” while a yellow burger and soda say “snacks are okay—please eat neat!” and a red cigarette leaves nothing to ambiguity. If no trip to their desired location exists for the date a passenger wants to leave, trips close to the date pop up instead. Another cool feature: If a driver plans to pass through certain locations on their way to their final destination (say, New York City to Boston, passing through Stamford and New Haven) the trip will still show up for passengers looking for trips from, say, Stamford to Boston. Though the founders initially envisioned Tripda as a way to connect people making one time, long-distance trips—road trips, home-for-the-holidays, etc.—they’ve found commuters are using their platform for daily ride-shares—something they encourage and are working to further support.

As a college student at Cornell, Vaxman says she would spend hours before each weekend searching mailing lists, Craigslist, and making phone calls, all to find a ride home, often to no avail. “Our goal,” Ms. Vaxman says, “is to make Tripda a viable, mainstream means of transportation for people across the world. Though there are often ways to get from one metro area to another, there are almost no ways to easily get from small town to small town. The rides are already happening,” she says. “We want to help people find them.”