Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Carsharing 2.0

What would a commuter carpooling service that actually tapped into the real-time transparency and flexibility of the Internet look like? Well, a lot like high-tech hitch-hiking, and possibly a lot more popular and effective at getting single occupancy vehicles out of morning traffic. At least that’s the idea behind Avego (Update: formerly called Sharelift according to the DEMO info), a service officially being launched at the DEMO convention in San Diego on Monday.

The service, developed by Cork, Ireland-based company Mapflow, uses a cell phone or connected-gadget placed in commuter vehicles to pull satellite navigation info and car info via a wireless connection to develop a next-generation public transportation system.

Update: Mapflow executive chairman Sean O’Sullivan tells us that the company will be focusing on its iPhone app for the DEMO launch. Mapflow calls it “shared transport,” but to us it looks a lot like carpooling brought into the always-on Internet age. The service will largely target commuters, but also could be used for taxi and other public transportation systems.

The passengers will pay on a per mile basis, a fraction of the IRS rate per mile (IRS rate is 58.5 cents per mile, the service would cost about 30 cents per mile, or 5 to 6 times cheaper than a taxi). Mapflow directs the vast bulk of the revenue directly to the driver (85 percent of the fare)… the remainder goes to cover OTA data communication charges, SMS charges, IT infrastructure, finance charges (Visa/MC/Paypal), and our operating, marketing & R&D expenses.
Video description of the service here.

Cool concept to use an iPhone to turn your car into an on-demand taxi or to be able to get a ride from another person for much less than the cost of a taxi ride.

Unfortunately, I think they have a chicken and egg problem here. As a rider, I would only use it if I had a very good chance of being able to get a ride within 15 minutes of when I wanted to leave and would be dropped off right where I wanted to go. Likewise, as a driver, I wouldn't want to go out of my way that much to pick someone up or drop them off. Unless a huge percentage of the population is using this service all the time, I just don't see how those two requirements would match very often.

I also wonder if this service would work better as a free service, where drivers give rides to others solely because it makes them feel good to help others out, and that they would expect someone would give them a free ride when they needed one. I am doubtful that the payments will be large enough to convince people to go out of their way to pick others up if they value their time at more than $5/hr.

I am not sure if this particular service will succeed, but the concept of combining GPS cellphones with car sharing and other forms of transportation seems like a winner.

via Earth2Tech

Update: Looks like this is actually a crowded field, as I just found two other carsharing applications out there.

First, from TreeHugger:
Carticipate is the first location-based mobile social network application for ride sharing, ride combining, and car pooling on a mobile platform -- specifically, the iPhone. The download is free and allows users to indicate where they are going and when, broadcast this information, and allow others in the same area (with iPhones) going in the same direction to find each other.
Second, from Earth2Tech:
Ecorio also provides alternatives to driving, using Google Transit to recommend public transportation and even integrates with Zimride, the large Facebook carpooling program, to locate carpools or allow a user to offer up a new carpool.

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