Damian Woodson is single-handedly changing campus life for the better with one simple thing: his red Toyota Prius C. Woodson launched his rideshare service, Otter Rides, in March and has so far helped students get from point A to point B on 15 different occasions.
Woodson’s original idea was to set up a carpool service with other commuter students, but quickly realized that “there’s got to be other students in the area that I can reach … it evolved into more of a rideshare because I own a car and I know that students could use help with transportation,” explained the third-year business student.
While Woodson had the idea for a carpool type of volunteer service, Otter Rides came to fruition in his business new venture design course at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB).
“I started doing this as part of a startup factory a while back for business majors. Basically you come up with a business idea and try to implement it.” After Woodson and his team won second place for the business model, he decided to make his vision a reality.
“Where I’m at now is giving rides to students, but trying to figure out a way to monetize it. I’d like to take more time and devote it to this,” shared Woodson. He explained he hopes to expand Otter Rides to include multiple drivers, as well as working out a contract with CSUMB’s transportations department.
With the help of some friends who helped set up an Instagram page for the service, Woodson took his rideshare service public. Students who are in need of local transportation can visit @otterrides on Instagram and select from the available time slots Woodson has listed on his website. Times are currently limited as Woodson is the sole driver and balances Otter Rides with his part-time job at In-N-Out in Gilroy.
Woodson provides a well-rounded experience for his riders, who have nothing but good things to say about the rideshare.
“Damian, who drives carefully and is amicable, provides a great experience, especially for exchange students who may not always have the option to buy or rent a car,” said Yann Gallo, a third-year exchange student from France who has used the service multiple times. “This service is quite helpful.”
Woodson explained that his plan is “to do around 25 rides and go to the transportations department and show them that there’s a need on campus” for more accessible transportation. Whlle his first request for funding was denied, his idea that CSUMB students are in need of more transportation turned out to be correct.
“I really like that he’s offering a ride service since I personally don’t like to drive a lot. I would definitely recommend it to other students,” shared fourth-year student Mikayla San Paolo.
“The furthest ride I’ve given was to the Salinas Highway Patrol station. A student needed to go there to get some paperwork so I drove them there and back to campus. The furthest I would go is about 20 minutes – I’d say that’s pretty reasonable,” said Woodson
Since Woodson commutes to CSUMB daily from Gilroy, “Usually I’ll do rides when I’m already in the area,” he said. This helps out with the financial drain of providing free rides around Marina and the surrounding areas.
Woodson explained that his favorite part is meeting new students, and helping other Otters. “One student is using [Otter Rides] for his capstone. He has to drive around and meet with different farmers so I’m going to help him with that,” he shared.
When he’s not in class, at work, or helping students get around, Woodson makes sure to dedicate his free time to doing things he loves with the people closest to him.
“I like to smoke cigars and drink with some buddies back home,” Woodson said. “I also really like coffee, so I’ll go to different coffee shops with my buddy. We just got a book about different types and started reading over it and discussing it for fun.”
While Woodson has big plans for the future of Otter Rides, he is still aware of his limitations when it comes to the rideshare service. “It’s not an official business yet, and I don’t know if it will be. It really depends on the school’s response,” he said.
“It would be cool to get paid by the school for doing this, that way I could do it more,” he said. “But overall I’m just happy I started this. Whatever happens with it, I’m glad I can look back and say ‘I did that.’”