In the weeks leading up to university breaks, WesAdmits, the all-student Facebook group, is flooded with posts from students looking to split Ubers to Bradley Airport in Hartford and Union Station in New Haven. As a first-year, Marc Esposito ’20 saw an opportunity to streamline this mess of posts and comment threads by connecting students who need rides with students who have cars on campus. Esposito, who had a car, created a Google form that students could use to request a ride from him or one of the handful of friends he roped into his idea. By the end of the Spring 2016 semester, Esposito named his growing operation “WesGo,” a community organization that connects students and drivers to provide inexpensive travel from Wesleyan to area transportation hubs. Hitting 1,000 ride requests at the end of last semester, WesGo is expanding rapidly and changing how students travel to and from campus.
The organization is also changing how students spend their money. Before WesGo, ride-hailing apps and taxi companies—typically expensive options—were the only on-demand ride services in the area. Esposito created WesGo in 2016 with the principle goal of making a little extra money with the car he already had on campus, and by recruiting other students who keep their cars at school, Esposito created a system that redirects the money students would pay to large corporations into the pockets of students. With WesGo, students pay the $30 flat fee for rides to Hartford or New Haven directly to student drivers, who sign up to do rides according to their schedules.
Esposito, a psychology and Science in Society major who took a leave of absence from Wesleyan at the end of his sophomore year, continues to run the organization remotely. He plans to return to Middletown in the fall to finish his undergraduate degree and get his masters. He sees WesGo as an accessible option for younger students who don’t necessarily know people with cars.
“[With WesGo], you don’t need to know an upperclassmen to get off campus,” he said. “I’m hoping that freshmen, without knowing anyone on campus, will see our ads and click the link and pretty reliably know that someone can take them to the airport or train station.”
Esposito grew WesGo from a small group of friends to an organization that recruits drivers from around campus—mainly through Facebook. To join, students simply need to own a car and agree to terms drafted by Esposito. The most important of these terms is that drivers must contribute $15 per month to pay for Facebook ads and the automated system that sends confirmation emails to riders.
Spencer Arnold ’20, who became a WesGo driver in the fall of 2017 and chose to take on more responsibilities as a member of the group, has become Esposito’s on-campus co-administrator. Arnold meets with new drivers to explain how WesGo’s ride request system works (the group communicates exclusively through Google forms and Slack) and get them to sign a form agreeing to the organization’s terms.
“I think it’s important that we have a somewhat shared idea of what we want this to be,” Arnold said, discussing what he looks for when recruiting new drivers. “Almost everyone we onboard writes that they’re excited to meet new people, which is a great part of [the job].”
Kathleen Lynch ’19 began driving for WesGo in November 2018. Because WesGo does not take a cut of the $30 that students pay to drivers, she gets to keep all the money she makes driving.
“I signed up because I was looking for an easy way to make some money,” Lynch wrote in an email. “I liked that driving with WesGo would allow me to have a flexible schedule. I have really enjoyed meeting new people at Wes through driving with WesGo…[and] I’ve always been the person in my friend group to volunteer to drive so this seemed like a perfect fit.”
Noah Kahan ’19, who has worked for years on improving Middletown Area Transit’s bus services and their connection to campus, understands the benefits of a localized transportation system like WesGo but wishes that students would make the extra effort to take public transportation to area hubs.
“I wonder if, because freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars on campus, WesGo is the main option for freshmen,” he said. “That could pose an issue with competition for my initiative, but the difference is that public transit will always be here, but I don’t know if WesGo will be here five years from now.”
While Kahan hopes to see the number of students who use public transportation rise, he has used WesGo multiple times and appreciates the model of the organization.
“Having people not pay into a corporation that drives you somewhere and really having the economy be more or less localized is a good thing,” he said. “I’d much rather pay my money to a Wesleyan student than to some corporation. It doesn’t really fit into public transportation, but it does contribute to students, which I think is a good thing.”
Both Esposito and Arnold noted that the number of WesGo requests skyrocketed last semester, so interest in the service only seems to be growing. According to Arnold, there were between six and eight ride requests per day in the week leading up to Thanksgiving Break. Now, the group averages two or three requests per day. Even with eight regular drivers, the group still cannot fulfill every ride request. Esposito and Arnold hope to continue recruiting until they have 12 drivers in the group.
Looking ahead, Esposito also hopes to purchase carbon credits to offset the emissions generated by drivers. He and Arnold record the fuel efficiency of each of their drivers’ cars and plan to figure out the process for and cost of purchasing these credits by the end of the semester. Esposito—who handles all of the technical aspects of the request and communication systems—hopes to publish the administrative tools he’s created so that other campuses can create their own versions of WesGo.
“I would love if I could figure out all the kinks in the system, automate the whole thing, and then make it an open-source system and publish it online so that other campuses could just plop this model on their campus and not rely on Uber and Lyft, which have a bunch of issues,” Esposito said. “Keeping transportation community-bound would be really powerful.”
William Halliday can be reached at email@example.com.