For five days of the week, I commute from Parksville to Nanaimo for work. I’m lucky enough to live with someone who I can share that ride with – being able to carpool not only helps cut down on gas emissions, but is also easier on the wallet. But what about people who commute and/or travel around the island who don’t know anyone they can carpool with? Or people who are looking to visit Tofino or Victoria for the weekend, but have no car? Picking up hitchhikers is illegal on the Island, so what other economical alternatives are there for people on foot? Enter HitchtheIsland:
HitchtheIsland offers a way for hitchers to connect with drivers for a safe, economical, and easy way to get from your point A to point B. Sarah and I chatted with the brains behind HitchtheIsland, Flo Devellennes, to get the 411 on this community of drivers and hitchers.
Tourism Nanaimo: How did HitchtheIsland come about?
Flo Devellennes: In 2010 I moved to BC from Europe to start a new life. I was contracting for a design firm in Whistler whilst living in Vancouver, so I had to commute a couple times a week for work. I’d always been a fan of hitchhiking and picked up a few people from the side of the Sea-to-sky. I quickly realized there was a need for a better (and cheaper) way to get to Whistler, so in November 2010 I put together HitchWhistler.com – a free rideshare website helping people organize trips to Whistler. The site had 1,000 signups and over 500 trips organized in the first season. In the Spring of 2011, I decided to expand the concept to Tofino with HitchTofino.com. The site grew to 3,000 members and in April this year I decided to open HitchTofino to the rest of Vancouver Island and rebranded to HitchtheIsland.com.
TN: Is it mainly Island locals who participate? Or do you see a growing number of visitors from off the island/out of province/out of country using Hitch the Island?
FD: HitchtheIsland is a community open to locals, visitors, tourists, passers-by, and everyone in between. The core group of users are Islanders and use it for weekend / day trips to visit friends and family in various places. The website works for commuting, carpooling and exploring — we encourage its eclectic use as it creates the best interactions in the community.
TN: Spots like Nanaimo, Victoria, and Tofino/Ucluelet seem to be the most popular, but does HitchtheIsland service any community from Victoria all the way up to Port Hardy?
FD: Members can offer trips to and from virtually any location on the Island, even to the ferries and the lower mainland. We are working hard on our community building to sign up more users in more remote areas such as Port Hardy. Getting the word out is our number one priority.
TN: Can anyone volunteer as a driver?
FD: Yes, as long as they have a valid driver’s license, of course.
TN: How does someone become a verified user?
FD: Once a user signs up as a driver, they are invited to get verified on the website (this is optional). They can send over either an abstract of their driver’s license to us (through ICBC) or upload a picture of their driver’s license on the website. We also ask them to validate either their phone number or one social media account. We manually verify details provided by each user and append a verified badge to their profile. We take our users’ privacy very seriously and destroy all personal files they provide upon verification.
TN: Is there a fee to being either a driver or hitcher?
FD: At it stands, signing up to HitchtheIsland is free for both driver and hitcher. We have an optional fee for hitchers who wish to get verified ($20 a year) – giving them priority seats with verified drivers.
TN: How has the feedback been so far from the Island community/users of HitchtheIsland?
FD: We are always gathering feedback from our users on how to improve our product. We made a set of significant changes to the site recently, focused on augmenting the user experience on mobile devices. The community has responded very well to our initiative and we are getting good support from both people and local businesses on the Island. We’re looking for more feedback so if you have any ideas, do get in touch.
TN: What are your goals/plans for the future of HitchtheIsland?
FD: On the product side, we are planning on building mobile apps to allow a seamless experience while on the road. We’re also planning to expand to other places in Canada and beyond where shared transport is needed. Our dream is to become a buzz-word people use when they want to travel around and meet people.
TN: Do you have anything else you wish to add?
FD: We are a small organization based in Vancouver, BC. We are trying to build a sustainable business based on social values and with the help of our community — you, we want to bring significant change to the way people envision transportation.
– Sarah & Sean