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Mills’ carpooling program

Alessandra Jaques

Members of the Mills community are joining together to fight the burden of gas prices and limited campus parking. Students, faculty and staff are now using Mills’ new online carpool service to forge joint rides to and from campus.

The service began on Oct. 10 and was established by Marshall Northcott, director of Central Systems and Administrative Computing; Anthony Hale, Oracle database developer; and Mahmud Rahman, banner services coordinator. Northcott said he was struck with the idea of a carpool/rideshare program during the summer in response to rising gas prices. He designed a prototype with Hale and Rahman yet was unable to implement it until the fall semester due to prior commitments.

“When everyone came back to campus this August and parking became an issue, we felt this ride-sharing program could … serve two purposes: saving ridesharers money and reducing the number of vehicles on campus,” he said.

Hale said the increased number of students helped them realize the “urgency of [implementing] such a solution.”

“The potential savings for users, both in avoiding parking headaches and gasoline costs, is huge,” he said.

April Hopkins, director of advanced systems and services for the Office of Institutional Advancement, was successfully matched up the very day she enrolled in the service. She now rides from her home in the Grand Lake district of Oakland to Mills with two staff members from other departments.

She has only been a member for two weeks, but the program has had benefits beyond saving her gas money and parking hassles, Hopkins said.

“It makes sure I leave the office at five o’clock, which is nice,” she said. “It was also a great way to get to know people in other departments that I normally wouldn’t have met.”

Northcott described the service as “secure and easy to use.” Students, faculty and staff can join by accessing their myMills account and clicking on “Carpool Service.” Users provide information on their city of residence, zip code, convenient meeting locations, class schedule and whether they are interested in being a driver, passenger or both. They are then provided with a list of “matches” or other subscribers who reside in the same area code.

Members can also contact each other by selecting the “e-mail individual” option next to a subscriber’s information. To protect the privacy of those involved, the system identifies each user by their zip code and does not display their e-mail address. This information is only revealed to other participants should the user choose to contact them via e-mail, and participants can remove themselves from the network at anytime.

Hopkins said she appreciates the anonymity of the service, which permitted her to choose with whom she wanted to carpool.

Hopkins also enjoys the convenience and comfort of carpooling with fellow members of the Mills community. Northcott believes this is one of the greatest features of the program. “It targets individuals that share a common destination and [thus] something in common to talk about,” he said.

Hale said privacy was one of the primary features the programmers wanted the carpool system to have. “We wanted to give users the ability to hook up with others without feeling that people would be spying on other people’s schedules and habits,” he said.

Approximately 80 people currently use the service, with undergraduates and staff the primary users. Most reside in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, but residents from cities as far away as Sacramento are also members.

Northcott encourages more members of the Mills community to take the program “for a test drive.”

“[This] isn’t just a program to help … people with a need to connect,” he said. “[It’s] also a way for those that do not have a need to willingly help those that do.”

Hale said that increased enrollment also improved the “chance for a productive match.” Hale, Northcott and Rahman have enrolled in the service but due to their unusual schedules are still waiting to be matched.

Northcott plans to keep the program as long as it “provides a benefit for the community.”