by Trung Hieu
Nguyen Thuy Hang, a young woman living in Ha Noi, appreciates the ride sharing or car pooling service which, in Vietnamese, is called di chung.
"Last month, I had to go to Noi Bai International Airport. Instead of paying more than VND200,000 for a taxi, I registered with the website dichung.vn," she said.
"Then I went to the airport with a man who owns and drives a car. According to advice from the website, we can negotiate for the fare, so I gave him VND100,000 and a thank-you smile," she said.
Nguyen Thanh Nam, 30, and his fellow workers launched the dichung.vn website to provide car sharing service, a new form of transportation, that saves money and protects the environment. Also called ride-sharing or lift-sharing, this practice ensures that more than one person maximizes travel by car or motorcycle.
By having more people in one vehicle, car pooling reduces spending for fuel and tolls, as well as the stress of driving. Car pooling is seen as a more environment-friendly and sustainable way to travel.
"I used to travel regularly between Ha Noi and Hai Phong. Sometimes, when I was alone in my car, I would feel sad and concerned over the waste of gasoline. Then I searched for others who were regularly travelling on the same route. When I found out that a lot of people were interested in this new way of travelling, I gradually developed the idea and spread it around," Nam said.
There is no need to register for membership in any group, since anyone who wants to take advantage of the service may go to the website, click to book a ride and follow instructions.
Users can gain access to the website and perform the required steps using either their computers or smart phones. The software will automatically measure the distance to be travelled then calculate payment for the car owner.
"Once you make reservations, your request will be sent to the vehicle owner who has provided information about the route he or she will take," Nam said. "The car owner has up to 24 hours to accept or reject your request for planned or sudden trips."
"The cost of travel is extremely low," added Nam. "For example, two people using car pooling service from Nguyen Khanh Toan Street in Cau Giay District to Trang Thi Street in Hoan Kiem District will each pay only VND3,000 for petrol."
Users are allowed to interact with each other on the website, where pooling is offered on all types of vehicles from all over the country, including motorcycles, cars, buses and taxis.
"We create an environment for users to interact with each other, and we only play a mediating role. We aim to creating the most favourable conditions for users to overcome psychological hindrances as well as unnecessary burdens," said Nam.
Nam noted that building trust and confidence among users was the biggest difficulty. To overcome this, the service requests each customer to register using an ID card or driver's licence. Customers can negotiate directly with the vehicle owner over the fare and make a direct payment or use the website for making a payment without incurring any additional expenses.
The website creators have set a five-year goal to attract two million users which, if met, means at least one million vehicles will remain off the streets.
If the average gasoline consumption of each vehicle is VND2 million per year, the users will be able to save 200 million litres of petrol and reduce other transportation expenses. The website creators estimate that the resulting reduction in traffic jams will lead to more than VND1.6 trillion (US$74 million) in annual savings for the cities of Ha Noi and HCM alone.
In Indonesia, in order to reduce traffic jams caused by the high density of cars in Jakarta, the city government allows only cars carrying at least three people to enter the city.
People who need to go to work or come back home from work have to pick up hitchhikers. Professional hitchhikers can earn about US$7 for a few hours. They even have their own websites to share information.
In the world, there are many organisations of hitchhikers. In Cuba, the government requests even public cars to pick up people going through the same route. Car sharing is encouraged since buying a car is not easy in Cuba.
Currently, car pooling attracts more than 2,000 regular clients and has become a place for connecting strangers to each other. Through this website, many people have reportedly found their respective soul mates.
Mai Vy, who lives in Ha Noi's Dong Da District, reports to work in another district and always suffers from congestion. Upon learning of the website, she became curious and registered. After a day, she found a person with whom to share a ride.
"At 7.30a.m, I arrived at our rendezvous. Suddenly, a young man riding an old Honda motorcycle stopped next to me."
"No need to verify my identity. Come along with me!" Vy quoted the man, exuding the confidence of a long-time acquaintance, as saying.
"Feeling slightly embarrassed, I rode on his bike. Gradually, we became close, and the journey seemed shorter. From car pooling on the streets, we now travel together on a road called love," Vy said.
"This practice obviously helps reduce traffic jams, since it reduces the number of vehicles on the road," she added.
Another young woman, Ngoc Anh, said she wanted to go shopping on weekends but could not persuade anyone to join her. She checked dichung.vn and found a young woman with the same interest.
"When we met for the first time, we felt very close. Now, we not only go shopping but also go out together for meals and coffee. I have a new friend who shares my interests and many similar characteristics. It was amazing," said Anh.
The website also offers to help clients share a taxi from downtown Ha Noi to Noi Bai airport and back, to cut their travel expenses.
To support students taking university and college entrance examinations, the website coordinated with the Ha Noi Youth Union to create a network of 100 volunteer motorbike taxi riders that would transport students from bus stations to the inns before, and take them from the inns to the bus stations after, the exams.
In 2012, the Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion (CSIP) adjudged dichung.vn as one of the top five social enterprises of the year.
"The model of dichung.vn, a community network aiming to share vacancies on vehicles to encourage new travel habits that save on costs and protect the environment, has solved a social problem. It has also shown its potential for even broader social impact. It has proven to be feasible and its practice can be further developed and spread around," said Pham Kieu Oanh, the CSIP director. — VNS