Log on, and grab a ride. The University of Central Florida today launched a new carpooling service that harnesses popular online social networking to help students and staff and faculty members save gas and money.

Zimride uses Facebook and Google Maps to help UCF commuters seek out or offer rides. UCF is the first university in Florida and the largest in the nation to utilize the service.

“UCF is such a technologically and socially oriented campus,” said Taylor Lochrane, Student Government Association vice president. “Zimride is one way that we can make campus commuting work better for everyone.

“This partnership will also mark a significant step in improving campus sustainability practices and reducing emissions,” he added.

SGA and UCF Parking and Transportation Services are offering the service for free to the entire UCF community. About 200 people had already signed up by the official June 29 launch date.

Here’s how it works: Users can log in at http://zimride.ucf.edu with their university e-mail address, create profiles and view others’ profiles. They can share details of their commutes, including music preferences and driving styles. Drivers have the option of charging riders and posting the prices on their profiles.

Users can limit how much information ride seekers see. Security settings allow only the university community to sign up on the UCF-Zimride Web site.

Zimride directly links with users’ Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media networks, enabling them to quickly contact riders or drivers. Users are able to rate other drivers and find out how much money they’re saving in gas and how much they’re reducing their own carbon footprint by carpooling.

The university also can calculate how much its community is reducing emissions through carpooling. The initiative is part of a larger effort to help UCF become climate neutral by 2050.

Zimride is the largest online social rideshare community in North America with more than 350,000 users. Other schools using the service include Stanford University, UCLA and the University of Michigan.

Organizers hope at least 10 percent of UCF’s population will sign up for Zimride within the first year.

While adding the new carpooling service, UCF continues to operate a free shuttle system that connects the campus with 17 nearby apartment complexes, Central Florida Research Park, Rosen College of Hospitality Management and the College of Medicine in Lake Nona.

With 34 buses, the shuttle system has served more than 2 million riders since it started in 2002.

“We think Zimride will work well here,” said Kris Singh, director of UCF Parking and Transportation Services. “Along with our successful shuttles, carpooling makes getting to and from campus more convenient, helps our students save money and has a sizeable impact on campus traffic and parking.”