Sunday, December 21, 2008

Computer-Driven Hitchhiking

SOON you may no longer need to stick out your thumb to catch a ride. Instead, you may get one by tapping your fingers on your iPhone.

Avego, based in Kinsale, Ireland (, is demonstrating an iPhone application intended to let drivers and prospective passengers connect and share rides.

When the program is available, drivers who want to offer rides will first download the app, then record their preferred route, said Sean O’Sullivan, managing director of Avego and executive chairman of Mapflow, Avego’s parent company, based in Dublin.

“You put the iPhone on the dashboard, and it records the entire trip and sends the route to our network,” he said. The system stores the route, adding it to its menu of paths and pick-up points and offering them automatically to interested riders.

Drivers must have an iPhone in order to use the service, but if passengers don’t, they will be able to look for a ride on the Avego Web site or call or send a text message, Mr. O’Sullivan said. Drivers and riders can identify one another by photographs displayed on their iPhones, as well as by PINs that verify identities and authorize the transaction.

Avego will charge 30 cents a mile, he said, with 85 percent going to the driver to recover some of the commuting costs and 15 percent to the company. All payments will be handled by automated online accounting.

It will take a while to establish a critical mass of drivers and passengers, Mr. O’Sullivan acknowledged. But he hopes that the chance to defray expenses will change the entrenched habits of many drivers who treasure their solitude. “It will require behavior changes on the part of drivers and riders,” he said.
Unlike Canadians, I think carsharing is a cool concept. Getting a critical mass is key. Not sure how exactly you get there, but maybe you go Facebook style and start on a college campus and take it from there. I am also not sure if this will only be possible in large cities with lots of people traveling.


Rebelfish said...

This is a good idea, but I think the driver should be able to set the rate: "I'm driving from Buffalo to Albany, and would accept $.10 a mile" or something like that. At 30 cents a mile, a 100-mile trip (i.e. NYC to Philadelphia) would cost $30 for the rider, and a 300-mile one (like Phillie to Boston) would be $90. So it's more expensive than taking a bus, prob'ly a little faster, but not reliable, since you don' know if you'll get a ride. I can't imagine this system is going to work except between non-urban centers (where there are less people driving, making it even harder for one them to be looking for a passenger).

Fat Knowledge said...

Yeah, I like the concept, but I think the devil is in the details, and it seems difficult to make it work. There is the chicken and egg issue. I am also curious if it works better as a monetary transaction, or more or tit-for-tat/altruistic setup like hitchhiking is now. You will help people out because it makes you feel good and you would expect the same in return, but if someone offers you money then it kind of ruins the whole thing.

I hope that there will be lots of experiments and that something will work out (which will then appear obvious in hindsight).

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