Shawn Engleman watches gas prices like a farmer watches the sky.
That's one of the main reasons the 35-year-old started an off-the-cuff weekend rideshare service in 2008, hauling passengers between his work in Santa Clara County, Calif., and his home in Ashland.
Back then, Engleman was holding down a graphic design job and a real estate job outside of San Francisco, which he decided to keep during a lagging economy after moving with his wife and two kids to Ashland early that year.
To help offset the costs of making the weekly trip and for a little company during the around 400-mile drive, Engleman started renting oversized vehicles to haul passengers with him both ways, charging $40 for a one-way ticket.
The price for a gallon of gas was pushing $5 then, Engleman remembers.
Before carting passengers, Engleman tried riding his motorcycle a few times, but it was too inconvenient. He tried flying — too expensive. And he tried Greyhound — "it's not for me," he said, shaking his head.
He said he tried Craigslist's rideshare forums also. "That worked until I got flaked on. The guy left me standing in a parking lot, and that was it. And I don't know about you, but '420 friendly,' scares the hell out of me."
Since starting his rideshare, he's never made the trip alone, he said.
"I realized early on that there is a big need for transportation between Southern Oregon and the Bay Area," Engleman said.
After two years of operating his rideshare service, hauling no more than eight passengers and never turning a profit, he decided to turn in his resignations to his jobs away from home.
"I never imagined that I would turn rideshare into a full-time gig," said Engleman, "but here I am."
Shawn's Rideshare started as a business in January 2011, and Engleman's Ford passenger van has been nearly full, for nearly every trip, since then.
In 2011, making at least two round trips per week, he averaged 12 passengers in his 14-passenger van.
"More trips than not, I was packed to the gills," Engleman said.
Engleman, who picks up and drops off most people at pre-determined central locations, charges $55 for a one-way trip, but riders have the option of paying an extra $20 if they want to be picked up at their front door, and $20 more to be dropped off where they please.
Aside from a special holiday schedule in November, Engleman drives one load of passengers from Southern Oregon to the Bay Area on Thursdays, brings another load back on Fridays, offers an express service from either city on Saturdays (using a second van), leaves Southern Oregon again on Sunday, and comes back on Monday for his two-day weekend.
"I love coffee, " he said, "It keeps me going."
Engleman, who forks up about $200 to $300 for gas one way, depending on drop offs, said he hopes to begin operating two vans full time by 2013.
"This is about the most reasonable way to go," said 91-year-old Dodie Hamilton, who was riding with Engleman for a third time during his Thursday trip to the Bay Area. "Greyhound is OK, but it's like comparing apples and oranges; this is just different ... much more comfortable."
Engleman has a vision of rideshare systems such as his expanding across the nation, he said, with plans to begin an online marketing campaign this year to help get people started.
"The current system of ride sharing is broken," he said. "Me getting left in a parking lot, that's the current system of rideshare that you currently have."
The first step to getting a nationwide rideshare network off the ground is for a video on his website, www.shawnsrideshare.com, to reach a million hits, he said. Shawn's rideshare schedule and rates also can be viewed on the site, and reservations can be made by calling 541-708-1628 or 408-372-6190 for a Bay Area pickup.
Engleman said most rideshare services lack the "golden ticket of reliability," which he is serious about.
"When Shawn says he's going, he's going," said Marion Chau, 70, of Medford. "And he is such a competent driver, and very courteous and safe ... . His driving is very relaxing."
During the next 24 months, Engleman said he will be making a serious effort of getting rideshare services such as his going on a national level.
"People need to join this movement ... it's sustainable, and it just makes sense," he said. "When I have 13 people in my van, that's potentially 13 vehicles off the road that would have been there."
He said, for the most part, not much has changed since he started providing rides in 2008. Aside from added insurance, more rigorous driving certifications, and the ability to transport more than eight people, it's the same.
"Anyone can do it," he said. "And if we had a nation-wide rideshare network in place, there's no reason why a gas strike wouldn't work."
Reach Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.