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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Jan 21, 2009
usa has decayed to place where people put hiv infected needles face up on seats in dark movie theaters.

its not 1950's america where people don't lock their doors.

the only way security could be reached is by police state of 1984. those driving these schemes don't mind as long as that utopia is run by al gore types.

i haven't personally known the hobo types, so i don't trust them. any time i see a guy wearing a gunny sack instead of a shirt, i put him into same category as guy carrying violin case and wearing a trenchcoat. i just have no baseline to judge when these types are simply excited or crazy trippin.

nobody is going to want to give hobos rides, and nobody will trust hobos except other hobos. once someone figures out how to exploit the system and those who participate, all the intolerance will backlash out of the liberal utopia guys. this plan will make usa more clanish, and put another level of responsiblity on citizens while taking away another liberty.

its supposed to be that when you gain responsibility that you also gain an accompanying liberty.

this plan is thoughtful and well intentioned, but in real world, security is going to be an issue in a post religious society.

a group who dutifully attends brainwashing weekly and fears hell and is told to be kind loving good will naturally have those traits more than one that does not. being atheist works if you have a life and things look bright. being poor and atheist creates criminals. without religion there is no reason to commit to greater good. if society isn't giving you a decent shake, you will simply opt out of the system.

religion tricks the poor into suffering for greater good. poor atheists will see they are getting screwed and have no psychological investment in morals or greater good.

we will always have poor. changes since 1950 make poor more selfish violent and criminal. ride shares would work if we didn't have the social movements of the last 60 years. woulda coulda shoulda.

i fear the day obama legislates mandatory participation and i have to ride with a person who needs meds. when they forget them one day, they will end up in loony bin for a few years after axe-murdering me. its unlikely its going that direction though, it will be mandatory out of $ needs not law. $ needs since energy industry was bankrupted.
Jan 21, 2009
My company is doing just that; it's called NaviShare.
The beta version of the service will be tested mid-2009 in southern France, I hope you also hear about it in the US soon. Any contributors to speeding up the development are welcome.
Jan 21, 2009
If one accepts the premise that the economy will always be in free fall (in order to keep Demorats in power) and that we will have limited cash, i am still not going to bother. It all seems like a bunch of nonsense to get a ride somewhere. I will ride a bike first. I have a phone, not an iphone, and after seeing them, i dont want one to share a ride.
Jan 21, 2009
webgrunt : So, the hobos in your city have iPhones? Where might that be, exactly?

I thought that was the iPhone target market, my mistake. But that brings up another interesting point, could you rideshare a car for your non iPhone having friend?
Jan 21, 2009
so the real problem with this idea is that it doesnt remove the need to own a car. for those of us whose lifestyles demand a car, we shell out a ton of cash on buying it, insuring it etc., so the marginal costs of driving it are minimal - so there's no real incentive to get a ride with someone else, and also no real incentive to give free rides to strangers. for those that dont own a car, cabs and public transport are enough.

to get this off the ground, there would need to be a significant economic advantage, like getting the car for free (or heavily subsidised) with a commitment to be available to give rides, or conversley a big dis-incentive to not doing it like a no-ride levy/tax that doublesup the cost of the car

giving the car for free is probably the better approach - maybe with a big Google logo on the side :)
Jan 21, 2009
I'd look to google, not apple to make something like this.

I second the thought that I don't want drivers riding around looking at their iPhones. All it'd take is one crash that kills some 16 year old moments after they get pinged for a ride for the whole system to be legislated into oblivion.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 21, 2009
Yeah. Or more people could just start working out of their homes. The infrastructure for that is already largely in place.
Jan 21, 2009
No way the local, state or federal governments allow this to happen on a large scale without getting "registered" and having proper insurance (like taxicabs). People get thrown in jail for operating illegal taxi services in the US., which this would undoubtedly be called by those in charge. The very best you can do is hope that taxi services somehow incorporate such an application in their business model. So the problems come down to:

1. No Government will allow this to be unregulated.
2. No existing taxi services are going to willingly put up with it.
3. Why would I want to give some smelly hobo a ride somewhere?
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 21, 2009
Given that my time is one of my most valuable assets, relying on others, be it ride-sharing or public transportation, has usually struck me as impractical and inefficient at best, and downright counterproductive at worst.

I remember college, when I took public transportation everywhere. It was slow, smelly, crowded, and unreliable. Everything was a pain. I spent a lot of time uncomfortably exposed to the elements (I live in the northeastern USA) in the winter and summer. A twenty minute car ride was an hour-long journey, and that's if the bus showed up on time. Or at all.

Now I drive just about everywhere, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Yes, it's more expensive, but it is SO much more convenient to be able to get to the myriad places where I want to go, when I want to get there, without being obstructed by the incompetence and/or unreliability of others. In this world the only person you can count on is yourself. If you're lucky, you can count on your family when it matters. Occasionally, if you're even luckier, you can count on your friends. Beyond that? You're freaking dreaming.
Jan 21, 2009
This will never work in the US because of lawsuits. It is always someone else's fault. Somebody picks up somebody they don't know very well and gets in an accident. That's a lawsuit.

Also, insurance companies will not like this idea. They already raise your rates if you use your car for any kind of business. I'm sure this would also count. If you don't tell them and something happens, you'll get an "oh that's too bad, but you weren't covered for that"

The cons seem to far out weight the pros for this idea.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 21, 2009
So what's the incentive for me to pick up some unknown stranger and drive them around (unless they're hot - as amysisson's pointed out)? Maybe it's because I live in a smaller city with no carpool lanes but it seems like a real pain to drive others around unless I get something out of it, like free gas - that would be awesome.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 21, 2009
Just out of curiosity, have you lived in any period of time outside the US?
Jan 21, 2009
There is a similar thing out there for traveling, staying at someone's home instead of a hotel, I think its called couch surfing. It really only seems popular among hippie types. Relying on someone being in the area to get home from work when its -30 degrees? Then what if your battery dies? Carpooling to work functions (barely) because people are going to and from the same place at relatively the same time every day. Solo transportation means freedom. Relying on a collective to get you to and from a place is is reliance on a system that you have no direct control over. Yea, your car can break down and you have to rely on parts being available and perhaps someone else to fix it if you cannot, but the majority of the time you have some sense of control. For ride sharing to work, there must be incentive to pick people up. The only good and generally available legal incentive is money. At what point does paying for a ride that may or may not be available balance with your own solo transportation? or public transportation?
Jan 21, 2009
I think this would work once we start having robot drivers. I don't know if this would require some kind of magnetic track that the cars follow, similar to a metro, but with the DARPA project's attempts to get AI to the point that it can drive, I think this is in the near future. I think the biggest problem with this is that human drivers are erratic and unpredictable, so if it was universally adopted we could have the cars driving themselves much sooner.
Jan 21, 2009
Have you heard of slugging? It is popular in the DC area. Riders line up according to where they are going and drivers come by and pick people up. The control is all in the hands of the driver who benefits by getting access to HOV lanes.


Jan 21, 2009
The third reason that they all failed was that none reached the Tipping Point. You other two reasons go to explain WHY the tipping point wasn't reached, but even when those obstacles are cleared, a tipping point may not be reached.

I expect that the first successful RideShare will start with a semi-open close-knit community, like a college where a significant portion of the students commute rather than living in dorms. Students are the logical starters because they are (a) poor, (b) young and trusting (vs. old and cynical), (c) tech-savy, and (d) less in a hurry (no "5 errands to run between work and day care before it closes")

As they leave college, they'll want the same service in the real world. Some may still be in the same area, and so will use the same service. Or be a driver, rahter than a rider, to give back to the service. And at some point, the tipping point will be reached, and it will grow virally, like cell phones and internet access.

Jan 21, 2009
The thing that would scare me is the thought that a bunch of drivers would be reading people's bios while driving.

I also suspect that male drivers would preferentially pick up female passengers -- not to kill them or attack them, but it would still be a bit creepy.
Jan 21, 2009
This is stupid. Just because there would be a record of where and when I was raped and killed and who I was raped and killed by, I still wouldn’t be ok with being raped and killed. Some whackos just don’t care about being caught when it is time to scratch the itch.

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 21, 2009
So, I steal your iPhone, pick someone up then commit a crime?

Seriously, why would I want to give someone a ride? To get $1 or something? No thanks.
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