Did the FBI Kill Ridesharing in the United States?

FBI anti-hitchhiking propaganda (from University of Texas Press)

Americans take for granted that hitchhiking is dangerous, and in many places illegal. And ridesharing is essentially just hitchhiking on technology. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that ridesharing is slow to catch on in this country. But I had no idea that all this fear started with an FBI campaign.

A few weeks ago The Conversation published an article on the history of ridesharing in this country.  The author explains that during WWII picking up hitchhikers was considered patriotic in America. But then in the mid-50s the FBI ran campaigns against hitchhiking, trying to convince people it was too dangerous, likely because they saw it as connected to counterculture and communism.

FBI anti-hitchhiking propaganda (from {link url="http://utexaspress.tumblr.com/post/77309951143/back-in-the-1950s-the-fbi-disseminated"}University of Texas Press{/link})

FBI anti-hitchhiking propaganda (from University of Texas Press)

Combine that with the growth of crime fear mongering that started in the 70s, and Americans quickly became convinced that hitchhiking = death (and picking up hitchhikers was basically asking to be killed).

Lots of U.S. ridesharing startups

I recently interviewed Rdvouz founder Rafael Ancheta about his ridesharing site for the United States. Since finishing up that interview Rdvouz has released an android app and some cool widgets for the site.

Rdvouz mobile app

Rafael also put up a blog post with his review of the ridesharing sites active in the United States. Considering his perspective as a competitor of these sites, it’s reasonably objective and a nice overview of the features and reach of options in this country. I was missing Ridebuzz and Share Your Ride from my master spreadsheet (filter on the Ridesharing sub-category), so I’ve added those.

Rafael missed a few himself, though to be fair some of these might fall into a different category than he intended to cover: HoveeRidepostRideboardOttoSrideTripdaRideshare.. There are actually even more, but they are devoted to very location specific ridesharing. See my master spreadsheet for the complete list.

And now that I’ve looked at this list, and consider the 7 in the Rdvouz blog post in addition to the ones above, it again makes me wonder about how there could be so many not-very-successful ridesharing businesses in this country. I’ve written about this topic before, questioning whether ridesharing will ever catch on in the U.S.

They myth of danger vs. the uneventful reality of ridesharing

The history of hitchhiking fear is part of the problem. And nowadays we also have an issue with most people in the United States owning a car and paying such cheap prices for gas (relative to the rest of the world). Add a healthy dose of American individualism and significant ongoing fear of riding in cars with strangers, and we have a very steep uphill battle to get ridesharing to catch on.

john waters carsickI recently read John Waters 2015 book, Carsick, in which the film director recounts his adventures hitchhiking across the country. All of Waters’ friends thought he was crazy for hitchhiking, and he himself was quite terrified at the start. But it turns out the experience was rather uneventful and so he creates a few alternate universe stories about how it could have gone (horribly wrong, fabulously exciting) before telling the real story which is pretty unremarkable.

That’s been my experience hitchhiking and ridesharing in other countries. Pleasant, but uneventful. I’ve met some nice folks, had some good conversations, and saved a lot of money by traveling this way. I look forward to a day when ridesharing is as popular in the U.S. as it is in Spain. But I’m not confident that day will come before we start to run out of oil and see huge spikes in the cost of driving.

1 Comment

  • Getting a ride without technology, hitchhiking, was and probably still is quick and simple in Ukraine in the cities. I’d stick my hand out with thumb down and a line of passing commuters would pull over to the curb instantly. (I suspect thumbs up would also work, but would identify you as a Westerner) It was like I put up a stop sign. If I didn’t agree with the 1st price I’d wave my hand to single the line to move up one car. No animosity for my rejection was ever shown. I was not time constrained so this worked well for me at most hours of day or night. During heavy traffic times using a Ride Sharing app would likely slow you down in Ukraine. Was it safe? Well, I was shown the ropes by the IOM Chief of Mission in Ukraine, who had a driver and diplomatic plates on his car but preferred this approach after hours. I wish we had Ukraine style hitchhiking in the US, alongside Ride Sharing.