Not long ago I blogged about my hunch that iPhones and their cousins would enable ridesharing in a way that past technology could not. Since then I have learned from Jim Morris, Dean, Carnegie Mellon at Silicon Valley, that there is a deep history of attempted ridesharing schemes:


One thing they all have in common is that none have set the world on fire. I think there are two reasons for this limited success, and both are about to change.

Reason one is that the economics of solo driving have always been relatively reasonable in the U.S. That could change as the economy continues its downward spiral. People will be looking to cut costs anywhere they can, and they will give up flexibility to do it. That's new, or potentially new. And in developing countries the economics of single passenger autos is less favorable. People will have iPhones long before they have their own cars.

The second obstacle to ridesharing is a sense of control. Imagine finding a ride match on your computer then walking to the sidewalk and hoping it actually shows up on time. Or imagine walking to some central pickup location and hoping there are enough drivers for the number of riders. You would feel you had no control. That's a stopper. But I can imagine a certain type of iPhone-like application that could give you back the feeling of control. I will explain.

First, it would help a lot if you could easily negotiate a ride from the iPhone as opposed to needing a computer. That helps if you need to make a quick change in plans. That's the first part of giving you a sense of control.

Next, the application should use GPS to draw a map of your location, with blips for the cars available for ridesharing. You select the nearest blip and a bio comes up telling you something about the driver, including his primary profession, age, a photo, and a picture of the car. If you don't like something about that potential ride, move on to the next nearest blip. Again, you have a sense of control. Likewise, the driver could reject you as a passenger after seeing your bio.

After you select your driver, and he accepts, you can monitor his progress toward your location by the moving blip on your iPhone. As with the progress bar on your computer, the feedback will give you a sense of control. And with an iPhone you can stay entertained while you wait. That helps make the time go by, and again gives you a sense of control.

I also imagine that all drivers would have to pass some sort of "friend of a friend" test, in the Facebook sense. In other words, you can only be a registered rideshare driver if other registered drivers have recommended you. Drivers would be rated by passengers after each ride, again by iPhone, so every network of friends would carry a combined rating. That would keep the good drivers from recommending bad drivers because the bad rating would be included in their own network of friends average. That system needs more thought, but you can see where I'm going on that. And the same system could be applied to potential passengers. As the system grew, you could often find a ride with a friend of a friend. And that automatically gives you something to talk about too.

The big fear people might have is that strangers would commit crimes against them. But remember that the system would have a record of every ride matched, including the identities of the participants, and a GPS record of where they were and when. A rideshare car would become the very worst place for a criminal to commit a crime.

Apple could make it happen just by good design and of course the coolness factor. The profit potential is huge, for both the system operator and drivers, so that imparts some inevitability to this idea. The U.S. will have too many legal barriers to be the leader in this sort of thing, so I expect it to catch on in other countries first. Once proven elsewhere, the U.S. might take a look.

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Dec 16, 2010
Thousands of people do this every work day in Washington, Houston, and San Francisco. The drivers initiate it so they can use HOV lanes.
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Jan 25, 2009
Wifi supported ridesharing is inevitable. You describe it very well.
Similar prospective idea described at http://iThumb.org or www.WiRide.com -

Only a government can provide the trust necessary to verify drivers. Also provide tax rebates or forgive gas tax with passenger !$%*! - easily calculated. Drivers and passengers both can be rated and their reputation displayed. Passenger can refuse any ride or driver. GPS tracks both parties. Delivers reports.

This is inevitable. Although maybe not in the US first. Stand at a bus stop in the rain with single occupancy cars driving by - you have your cell phone. You should be able to connect to a trusted driver going your way.

One big obstacle is agreement on standards. There are lots of Ridesharing services - they should all be able to exchange information and share members ride plots in a trusted way.

This optimizes personal transportation in the future. Thanks for spotting this.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 23, 2009
I know someone mentioned it, but it would eventually increase the amount of stolen phones, or phones that are rigged to produce signals of other phones.

It's the best world if your a thief. You steal a businessmans phone, walk a block, signal someone, they see you as someone safe and viable on their phone, and they give you, the thief, a ride across town. Meanwhile, in the car the thief has turned off the phone so it is not traceable, and he then rips out the drivers intestines with his stolen leatherman, and steals his phone, his car and notebook computer. He then dissolves the body in hydrochoric acid (he has some) and takes on the identity of the driver, and goes home and screws the drivers wife (or husband) and kisses her (or his) baby. He then teaches this child to become a super-criminal, and it's the 80's again, and we are waiting for a robo-cop like creation to be designed, to take out the young super-criminal.
That's why it won't work.
Jan 23, 2009
Forget ride share schemes. Let's work out telecommute options first. With the cars taken off the road, those who do have to travel will have plenty of road space to drive their electric cars.
Jan 23, 2009
(I work for Carticipate) There already is a rideshare application on the iPhone called Carticipate, which is available as a free download on iTunes.

The idea is to indicate where and when you want to go along with your profile and we will match you up with people in your area going the same way, and to do so dynamically with mobile devices.

About two weeks ago we launched the companion Carticipate app on Facebook which will synch with the iPhone, though the iPhone is no longer required to carticipate.

Future versions will support carticipation with more social networking support.
Jan 22, 2009
You are right on the money with this post. We have been in the Ridesharing space for over a year now and have over 100,000 members worldwide. Mobile is the space to be in and the technology that is out there now makes it quite viable. The key is to be platform independent because not everybody has an iPhone but the scenario you described is attainable today. We are currently working on a alpha version right now and will be releasing a mobile version of PickupPal to a group of early adopters in a matter of weeks - exciting times for sure!

Cheers - Eric
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Jan 22, 2009
How to do it without an iPhone....

Jan 22, 2009
Along the lines of using iphones for a common purpose this article was posted on Znet earlier today:

"Can the smartphone beat down violent crime?"

It's an interesting idea, but will it work?

Jan 22, 2009

I see your comment re: motorcycles and I raise you one bicycle. I cycle 12 !$%*! each way to work through the year and use absolutely no petrol. It may not be for everyone but it would be good for many.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
One aspect is clearly omitted - the legal stuff.
As the drive sharers would split costs, a passenger will give money to the driver. Even though the amount would not cover the costs of petrol and car depreciation, such money would be considered as income.
So, firstly such activity would draw attention of the tax authority. Secondly (especially, I supposed, after first few casualties in a shared car), the question of taxi-driver licence would rise.

PS Can't wait for the promised change in cartoons. It will surely cause a stream of complaints - I like when peolple whine about free stuff.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
People in developing countries are never going to buy an iPhone before a car! I'm from India and here, one of the chief modes of transport is the motorbike. Not the gas guzzling (albeit very desirable) Harleys that you have. The ones here are puny 0.1 liter machines that return between 165 to 120 !$%*! to the gallon. Though they wont break the sound barrier anytime soon, they do go faster than the 2 to 3 liter cars in city traffic.

Also, I think your idea would work even better if you could apply it to the public transport system. All you need is a device that can connect to the net, which can tell you which buses ply on your route and where they are right now. You get transportation at the cheapest with a government driver. In developed countries, throw in a wi-fi connection and you have a winner.

(You should consider having a little timer at the side to tell people when their session is going to end. Your stronger than world bank security ate up my last post - session expired before I hit post. I am presently rediscovering the joys of notepad)
Jan 21, 2009
Hi, I hope I'm wrong but without giving it too much thought, the sniff test of this utopia reeks of NP-completeness.

Just in case anyone cares, NP-complete problems are problems that can't be efficiently solved by computers because they are too complex, and they *probably* won't be solvable in the future either.
Jan 21, 2009
For it to work it needs to get past the iphone, and work on any mobile,

Otherwise it'll simply never catch on, because it'll never cover enough of the "market",
Jan 21, 2009
A couple of points
- Gasoline will have to get way more expensive before this will happen. We currently pay around $6 a gallon in Great britain and car-sharing just isn't happening here much - everyone still prefers safety and independence.
- people in 3rd world? people will get an iphone before they get a car? I don't think so. I work in Libya, after 4 years in Angola and 5 years in Fiji so have a little bit of experience - when they have a job then the first thing people get is a phone to call people. That is what phones are for. Then they get a car.
An iphone is a toy - it isn't an essential. A phone becomes essential very quickly and a car comes way before an iphone - way, way, way before an iphone.
When you don't have a car in the country side you sit by the road and flag down any pickup that is going by, jump in the back and ride to town. You car pool because you have the time to wait sometime for hours - as other have said - you don't have five things to do in 2 hours to beat the rush hour traffic back - and you don't have to be a soccer dad or a hocky mum or a taxi service for your kids. I don't see the US lifestyle (or the UK lifestyle) to be ameniable to ridepooling except for people who aren't time-limited - students, retirees, unemployed
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Jan 21, 2009
I've wondered why the "friend of a friend" system you're describing hasn't been used in say, Iraq. Not for qualifying a person to be a driver, but for determining that they're not a terrorist. Though, it could work the same way as what you've described. If someone turns out to be a criminal, then anyone who recommended them is now a suspect. Of course, iphones would be a little expensive to hand out to everyone, but a small smart-card type device (kind of like ez-pass here in the northeast), would be cheap and effective. To get into an area, you'd have to go through a gate which would read your card, and the system would instantly know who you are and who recommended you.

Jan 21, 2009
As meagen1235 correctly noted above, it's already in existence without the need for an elaborate technological solution. Granted, the solution may be relatively unique to the DC area because of some unique elements - a central employment core with a high employee population, HOV-3 restricted lanes on the primary artery into DC, and limited mass transit options from the further reaches of the suburbs.

The central employment core is important, as you have many agencies within a small area with high numbers of employees...this facilitates a relatively small number of terminal locations within DC that are convenient for most drivers. This makes ride matching relatively easy as the various slug locations can have three or four destinations formed up when the drivers come through looking for their passengers. Also advantageous is a relatively standard set of working hours for the government employees, which provides a critical mass for getting in and out at fixed times.

The HOV-3 lanes on I-95/395 greatly facilitate access into the city as they provide a direct link from the further suburbs along the southern axis into the DC core (and the Pentagon/Crystal City area), and the time savings is singificant - from the closest in locations, you're talking halving the commuting time for all involved...from further out, you may cut the time down to a quarter of what it would take driving solo. That's advantageous for all involved. The HOV-3 means that even an established carpool might have a person or two on vacation and need a temporary replacement.

Finally, the reach of mass transit into the VA suburbs is limited and tends to be expensive and time-consuming. Metro barely reaches outside the Beltway in the DC area, particularly along the I-95 corridor, and a round trip in rush hour can run $15, including parking. And you still have to get to the Beltway to get to Metro, which is time consuming. There are trains available, but that can be an expensive option.

For the driver, you get an expedited trip into the city, minimal cost (many folks have subsidized parking at their location), and relatively few hassles. The riders get a free ride in and out (they are providing a benefit to the driver), but without the time certainty that a set commute may provide.

Overall, it's probably a unique solution to this region, but it exists and has existed for years and years with only minimal government involvement and organization required.
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Jan 21, 2009
I consider myself a strong, liberated female and all that. But I'm still NEVER getting into some random guy's car, or picking up somebody I dont know. Sorry, it'll never work.
Jan 21, 2009
I'm going to sound really preachy here and I apologize. I would point out that virtually all of the problems taken care of by ridesharing can be taken care of at least as well by riding motorcycles. Just stop pushing around several tons of metal and you will be amazed at how much less gas you use, how much easier parking becomes and how free you feel. Aren't you caged up enough in your life. Work in a cubicle (box)? Go home and put yourself in another box (house)? When you die, they will put you in another box and then you will never get to enjoy the sun, the wind, the flowers or any other part of this beautiful world. On a motorcycle you can feel the wind and the sun and smell the flowers. If even a sizeable portion of Americans rode motorcycles we would be much freer from:

Arab oil barons

Big oil companies

Annoying traffic headaches (1 lane becomes 2 when shared by bikes)

Parking hassles

the aforementioned box

You may call it dangerous. I call it the right thing to do. I would love to see more people have the courage to do the right thing.
Jan 21, 2009
I don't think this will take off. However I've thought something along these lines this would be the evolution of our current taxi service.

Through an Application on my GPS Phone I say I'm ready for pickup now or X minutes from my current location from a Bronze through to Gold service. It sends out requests to the affiliate "Taxis" that range from standard cabs ("Gold Service"), Minivans ("Silver Service") to regular old buses ("Bronze Service"). It returns a list of the available services and their price, pick up time and place of pick up (for cheaper services may require walking to the nearest main road). The taxi-bus is like a regular bus route except it is dynamic, the GPS navigator in the drivers face tells the bus driver where to go to pick up the next passages but it will tend to stick to main roads. At peak times it will be slower, and in off peak time the bus is going where people want it.

The advantage of this transportation system is it has built in ability to handle problems because it's not rigid. And doesn't need expensive displays either because people bring their own.

Eventually the most practical metro vehicles will be boring electric AI driven egg shaped things and using them will be like getting in an elevator, just one that moves along the ground. I mean people use to "drive" elevators. We'd think that pretty silly now.

Jan 21, 2009

But... what if you could ONLY ride with a friend of a friend, once removed. You'd HAVE to have a mutual friend, someone that each of you know first hand. There would be less touchy-feely-creepy stuff in that case because there's a real fear of everyone you know finding out that you're a creep or a criminal. It's still enough people to make the concept work, but not as much of a nightmare as the thought of my daughter hitching a ride from a guy because his picture is cute and his Ride Points were "like, totally up there."
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