Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Communi-GO" a No-Go

[NOTE: Post reprinted from 2005]

Recently, there was an AP news story out of Northampton about a group seeking to start up a hitchhiking network in the Pioneer Valley area. With the blessings of Northampton’s Chief of Police, the group – called “Communi-GO” – plans to sign up at least 300 people, each of whom will submit their names and addresses to the police. Participants will then be issued cards (for drivers) and placards (for riders). Instead of thumbing for rides, the riders will display their placards to traffic until a participating driver comes by to pick them up. According to the story, safety is dependent on an “honor system” when trusting the past criminal history of participants. There will be neither pick-up schedules nor routes to follow.

I have already voiced my strong disapproval of this program in an earlier article. Since there is no written documentation of routes or pick-up times, a person could go missing for hours, if not days, before anyone learns of his or her disappearance. The Communi-GO plan is simply a large-scale hitchhiking operation, with practically no safeguards whatsoever for the participants. Submitting names and addresses to police will not deter criminals from seeking out easy targets for abduction or robbery. Furthermore, even if an assailant is a Communi-GO participant, having his victim’s hair and skin artifacts in his car would not necessarily implicate him in any wrongdoing – he is after all a member of Communi-GO, why wouldn’t he have those artifacts in his car? He could even admit to having picked up the victim in the past, just [fake sigh] not on that fateful day. And what about the drivers themselves? I can (almost) understand a person without a vehicle feeling the need to hitchhike, but why do drivers needlessly place their own personal safety at risk by picking up hitchhikers? Where is the necessity?

Included in the story was a mention that this program was similar to “carpooling” programs run in the San Francisco and Washington DC areas. A quick check with these two programs, though, shows that both have very little in common with the proposed Communi-GO plan. Both the San Francisco plan and the Washington DC area plan require participants to be employed by affiliated companies or schools. After participants register, they must fill out a schedule and select a route. They are then matched up with a driver or rider. Either party can decline if they choose not to be paired with a particular member. (The San Francisco-based program requires participants to use program-approved parking areas.)

These are well organized, soundly developed operations. They provide for security by requiring participants to be employed by affiliated companies or schools. They require both schedules and routes, and they also allow each participant to know his or her match beforehand.

The San Francisco plan, RIDESHARE, is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Washington DC area program, NURIDE, is based out of Herndon, VA.

Finally, if you have considered the risks and you still choose to take part in the Communi-GO program, then that is your choice. I truly do wish you well, and I very much hope that you remain safe. Almost all of you will, I’m sure. And if you are an organizer of the Communi-GO program, then I have this to say to you: If anyone comes to harm or death while participating in this program, his or her suffering - and the grief of his or her loved ones, will be something you will have to live with for the rest of your life. I hope you are prepared for that possibility.


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