by Minh Thi
As the costs of energy consumption, pollution and traffic congestion have become growing concerns among urban dwellers, carpooling - the sharing of journeys in which more than one person travel in a vehicle can be a solution to the problems.
Although this mode of travel has been common in some Western countries including the US, the UK and notably Germany, it has only recently become popular in Viet Nam via the presence of some carpooling social networks and websites.
Duong Quoc Chinh, a military official who regularly travelled between Ha Noi and other northern provinces like Thai Binh and Bac Giang on business said he had searched for a travel match on the carpooling website dichungxe.vn 10 times and successfully found partners seven times.
Chinh's passengers included a family and students who contributed by paying the fuel costs or whatever they could afford.
He had wanted travel partners during his journeys to ease the stress of driving long distances and in the meantime, help people without vehicles to travel at low cost.
"It is an environmentally friendly way to travel that should be encouraged in this time of growing fuel prices and pollution."
Bui Huy Cong, a businessman in northern Quang Ninh Province who commutes between Cam Pha and Ha Long by car on a regular basis, said he viewed carpooling as a way to extend relations and make good friends.
"Most of the time I do not ask for money for a ride, as I feel getting to know someone new is already a good thing."
Dang Quynh Dung, a resident of Ha Noi's Hoang Quoc Viet Street, said Viet Nam should learn from the experiences of Germany, where carpooling was common with the assistance of social networks, websites, telephone lines and pick-up spots.
"When I was living in Germany as a student, my friend and I often travelled via carpooling by looking for travel partners with common destinations in mind and saved a lot of money by sharing expenses."
In 2009, carpooling represented 10 per cent of travel in the United States, most of which involves spouses, according to the New York Times.
According to Nguyen Minh Duc, on the management board of the social network website dichung.vn, since its launch in early April, the website has so far attracted more than 500 members.
Over 100 persons posted information to find travel partners there every day, he added.
Via such websites, drivers and passengers search for a travel match and contact each other to arrange details.
The users may share motorbike rides within the city, long distance rides by car or travel by taxi together at a cheaper cost.
Duc said a majority of users were white-collar workers aged 22-35 years old and living in cities, mostly Ha Noi and HCM City.
Duong Dinh Chinh, founder of dichungxe.vn, another website for carpooling launched in late 2011, said the most common vehicles for carpooling were automobiles.
Most users needed to go to work or travel to their home province on long trips of over 50 kilometres.
Alongside the advantages it offers, there are also some risks connected to carpooling, most typically related to security while travelling with strangers.
Nguyen Thu Huong, a Hanoian user of dichung.vn, said she only searched for female travel partners who worked for companies she knew for long distance journeys for safety reasons.
Duc said website managers could not know how users get in contact or meet, implying that it was the user's responsibility to protect themselves.
For safety reasons, the website dichung.vn posted carpooling guidance for its users and set up user-ratings based on member feedback.
Chinh held the same opinion, stating that carpoolers should get to know their potential partner first before making the decision to go on a journey with someone.
He also warned drivers not to travel long distances alone at night with someone they did not find trustworthy enough.
To raise security, Chinh's website requested users to reveal personal information such as identity card and licence plate numbers.
Precautions include checking potential partner identity cards or personal papers, have a talk to find out more about them and discuss itineraries in detail.
Personally, I think carpooling is a great idea, but it might be dangerous if you do not take precautions to protect yourself before you go on a long distance journey with someone new.
I have travelled with groups of strangers several times, but mostly in the company of a close friend after having carefully researched information about the itinerary.
If you are sure you have found reliable travel partners, there is no reason not to give it a try. — VNS