Regular readers will remember Zimride, the carpooling service that works like a social network, matching needy commuters with altruistic drivers. Until recently, Zimride had been a private service, sold to universities and large corporations to help students and employees get where they need to go. On Wednesday, however, Zimride launched its first "promoted" public route for carpooling fans -- and it now offers an easy way for drivers to get their gas money, too.

The promoted route is longer than the one most commuters take, but it's definitely well-traveled: the 350-mile route from San Francisco to Los Angeles along Interstate 5. Given the length of that ride and the potential for traffic congestion, driving will take far longer than flying -- but then, what kind of airfare could you score for $40? For cheapskates willing to listen to a little Avril Lavigne (or anything else outside their comfort zone), Zimride might be just the ticket.

And there's even better news for drivers: Zimride now manages the payment exchange on your behalf. The company said that users complained about the awkwardness of dealing with cash transactions and haggling in person, so Zimride has stepped in to play the middleman. At the moment, the company isn't taking a commission on those exchanges, but in the future, it's hoping for a 10% cut.

But what if LA and SF aren't on your itinerary? Zimride's public site also allows users to post their own custom route in the search for fellow travelers. Just name your starting point, your final destination, your departure time, and you're set. Zimride will even calculate a fair price for passengers. If you want attract the right folks, we suggest telling them a little about yourself, too -- few people would want to be stuck on a cross-country roadtrip with an ablutophobe.  

This is a great development for Zimride, which has garnered a fair share of attention the past four years -- not to mention $1.5 million in seed funding. Most promising of all: Zimride's new user-friendly features make ride-sharing easy and comfortable, which, as studies have shown, is the biggest impediment standing between travelers and alternative transit.

If you've used Zimride or if you plan to do so in the future, drop us a line and let us know what you think -- or leave a comment on our Facebook page.