Germany and beyond: Inter-city car pooling with Mitfahrzentrale
We were checking out the German tourism office’s new “budget travel” section on their website today and came across their article on saving money on transportation in Germany. Most of the tips were helpful, and included train discounts (for weekend travel), cheap inter-city bus travel, city transportation passes, and even bike programs.
Share your ride!
The tip that caught our eye, however, was the “Mitfahrzentrale” shared-ride service, in which automobile drivers traveling between German (and other European) cities offer up seats in their cars. Passengers joining the ride are responsible for paying only their portion of the trip’s expenses (usually covering just gas and tolls).
The car-pooling service is hardly breaking news–it’s been around since 1998 and has 700,000 registered members across Europe. Yet, it’s still not well-known to many non-Europeans.
How it works
Mitfahrzentrale is free to join and registering is a quick process. As a passenger, you simply type in the cities you hope to travel between, a date, and time (if you’re picky). The results display a list of all drivers traveling that route, departure times, how many free seats they have, and any special concerns (smoker, non-smoker, languages spoken, etc.).
The program, unsurprisingly, can cut inter-city transportation to a fraction of the cost of other methods. Beyond budget benefits, sharing a ride has some surprising social perks: Drivers, some of whom make a particular trip very regularly (for example, between Berlin and Hamburg), are able to talk to passengers during the trip, breaking the monotony, while cutting their own costs. Of course, anyone in the car could strike up a potentially long-lasting friendship.
The system, however, might strike others as a bit risky. After all, who is this driver? And who are these other passengers?
Mitfahrzentrale has thought that through, of course. Passengers initially email or call the driver in order to arrange the pick-up and drop-off details. They then are encouraged to share the driver’s phone number and personal info with others, for a “safety check.”
Also, passengers and drivers may write reviews and testimonials of each other, in order to know whose car you’re about to step into. And finally, users may validate their identity by faxing in a photo-ID, which gives them “safe user” status. (Read more safety information.)
The basic service is free and open to all to join, although a “premium membership” (which costs about €20 a year) allows you to see phone numbers (side-stepping the need to email first).
Tell us what you think.
Have you used Mitfahrzentrale? How was your experience? Would you recommend it to others–and to tourists? If you’ve never used the service, would you consider it? Tell us below!