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Interest in carshare apps surges after BART strike

  • Paul Steinberg, right, Director Americas for Avego, greets Kali Davis, a librarian at San Francisco State, at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Davis won a helicopter ride back home to Concord, Calif. across the bay as part of a promotion. Just days before hundreds of Bay Area Rapid Transit workers went on strike, the online transportation support service, Avego, bought a new web address: www.bartstrike.com. By Monday morning, when 400,000 displaced commuters were struggling to get to work, they were offering a free helicopter ride to one lucky commuter, selected at random, who downloads their ridesharing app. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Just days before hundreds of Bay Area Rapid Transit workers went on strike, the online ridesharing network Avego bought a new Web address: bartstrike.com.

By Monday morning, when 400,000 displaced commuters were struggling to get to work, Avego was going beyond offering an easy way to share a ride with a stranger. The company was giving a few lucky commuters who downloaded its smartphone app a free helicopter ride to bypass the traffic.

Avego is one of many startup rideshare companies marketing their services with gusto after this week's strike by the workers who transport more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco.

Sign-ups jumped from hundreds before the strike to thousands over the weekend, said Paul Steinberg, Avego's director of operations for the Americas. "We're getting creamed," he said.

Among those hopping in Avego cars this week was Mackenzie Vaillancourt, who relies on BART to cross the bay every day to get to work from her San Francisco home.

Vaillancourt has been booking rides to work using the app on her cellphone.

"This week this service has been extremely critical," she said. "My job requires me to be in my office every day, and I don't have a car."

Driver Laura Manningo, who uses the system to find would-be carpoolers to help pay for gas, said it's been a busy week as she drives to work and back with new passengers.

"I've been getting a ton more messages," she said.

The online rideshares, peer-to-peer taxis and carpool apps have faced criticism and calls for bans because they compete with taxis. Some offer prescreened cars owned by professional drivers with black sedans or SUVs, while others provide ways to find commute partners and share the travel costs. Some of the services get around safety regulations and government fees by offering a donation-based system.

The market has surged in the past year, with several leading firms saying this week that their business has been soaring.

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