Hich2.jpg

Hich co-founders Trey Rustand (left) and Zach Casey (right) pitched their app to JMU faculty, staff and alumni.

With a click of an app, a car pulls up — it’s that easy to get a ride. Many college students use ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, which are popular, easily accessible and easy to use, but pose safety concerns for some. 

“[Safety] played a relatively large role, especially being a young woman being in a college campus,” sophomore music and physics major Beth Moore said. “Lyft was the one I downloaded first because I heard and read more about Lyft being geared toward women, having more in-depth background checks for drivers. It was, in general, made for young women who felt unsafe getting into strangers’ cars.”

For the past two years, Zach Casey (’19) and Trey Rustand, a senior computer information systems major, have been working on a new ridesharing app called Hich, which is exclusively tailored to the demands of students. The app, which will be released Oct. 7 on the App Store, is similar to larger companies like Uber and Lyft in style but is intended to provide features to attract college students.

The pair has been working with the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship at JMU over the past two summers to learn the ins and outs of starting a business. Last summer, they also partnered with an accelerator in Richmond called Lighthouse Labs. These programs provide new entrepreneurs with resources to learn what it means to start a business from beginning to end. 

“Pretty much with any start-up business, you really don’t know what you’re doing,” Casey said. “What [accelerators] do is they bring in experts, people who have been there and done that, and they help accelerate the growth of your company. It’s just meant to bring knowledge, education and some direction to your company.”

These accelerators helped the concept of the app change from a simple carpooling app to a full-fledged rideshare program. The inspiration for creating a college-specific rideshare app was to help combat some of the problems existing in current programs. One of the largest issues they hope to address is safety in rideshares, especially for female riders and drivers. Their app requires every user — rider and driver — to be a college student, verified through their “.edu” addresses. The app also has an option for users to request a driver of the same gender.

Not only are there safety benefits, but it has the on-demand convenience of Uber or Lyft in contrast to the JMU bus system, which doesn’t run everywhere through town.

“Usually with the bus system at nighttime, it takes forever,” Simon Moon, a sophomore media arts and design major, said. “It’s nice to have a driver that’s already available coming straight to you, picking you up and going straight to a certain location.”

Hich also has a forum that allows students to get rides between other campuses or back home for the weekend. While there are some Facebook pages and existing methods to try and find more long-term rides, the creators hope the app will allow that process to be easier to organize. Users will be able to post their available spaces for a ride, and people can fill them through commenting. 

Above all, Casey wants to provide a service for not only JMU students but for college students nationwide. He believes his perspective as a former college student offers unique insight into what the future of these ridesharing apps can be. For now, he’s excited to see two years of hard work pay off.

“I’m really proud of myself for taking the risk because if I didn’t, I would have thought back years from now and said, ‘What if I tried it?’ and I would have never known because I never tried,” Casey said. “I’ve been learning so much out of school, which is incredible, and have been motivated to learn new stuff because it’s for myself. It’s not for a grade. It’s not for a teacher. It’s not for my parents — it’s for myself.”

Contact Camryn Finn at finnce@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.