It is a pretty safe bet that almost every time you run an errand, you are the only person in your car. It is also a pretty safe bet that for most of those errands somebody that lives close to you has been to the same place recently. Imagine the impact it would have on the world if we could somehow or other share rides with these people.
Robin Chase is the woman who is going to make it happen. She’s already done it once with Zipcar. She figured out how to make community car sharing work, and now people in a number of major cities can simply log into her website, find the nearest car, and hop in at an hourly rate.
I talked to Robin yesterday at the TED opening night party and I believe her idea is one of the most exciting developments I’ve seen in years. I’ve been thinking about car sharing for a while. Most cities have some form of ride-sharing program but it doesn’t work very well because of trust and convenience issues.
Robin has taken it to the next level and really thought about how to make ride sharing work. Her company is called GoLoCo and the website (www.goloco.org) is going to go live today. GoLoCo is a company that couldn’t have existed until a few years ago. It combines social network, mapping software, and electronic payment systems to build a compelling application.
The first big problem of a ride sharing system is trust. GoLoCo solves this problem by using the social networking techniques pioneered by a wide variety of online communities like tribe.net. The idea is that when you sign up for GoLoCo, you’d encourage all your friends to do the same, and since you know each other you establish a trust network. Now you can decide just how far you want to extend an invitation to go to IKEA on the weekend. Do you want only your close friends to know, or will you take anybody in the neighborhood? This solves two problems at once. First of all, it helps get the system over the critical mass of users that is necessary to make it work, because hopefully entire networks of people will sign up at once. Secondly, it helps reduce the fear that you’ll pick up some kind of weirdo that you don’t know.
The less obvious implication of this is that it can turn errands into community building activities. Now you don’t have to go to IKEA by yourself: you can pick up a friend and go together.
The second problem of ride sharing is managing the routing. Robin admits that this was a much harder problem then she originally thought, mainly because she wanted to keep the system as fuzzy as possible. She says that her research shows that people have an enormous amount of flexibility in their schedules and that if you make the software too restrictive you end up tying people down more than they need to be. She wanted to make sure the software was flexible enough to allow you to say things like: “I’d like to go to IKEA any Saturday in the next month”.
The third problem is payments. GoLoCo takes care of this for you, so when you give a ride to somebody it automatically collects and transfers the money.
This is an enormous idea. With gas prices going up and the air filling with greenhouse gasses, we need to rethink transportation. Suddenly what used to be solo trips will become opportunities to pick up people in our extended circle of friends and share rides with them. Not only that, but we’ll earn money by doing it. The implications are truly staggering. Its ideas like this that make me think we have a hope against climate change. There are some awfully smart people in the world.