Saturday, November 02, 2013

Ride sharing: the future of transport?

Rising gas prices, crowded roads, and lack of affordable public transportation all across America.  In the age of the internet, we have a huge opportunity for improvement.

Allow me to briefly describe a futuristic system of transportation that need not be more than a few years away.  First, here are the goals of the system:
  • Reduce the amount of traffic, allowing the remaining traffic to proceed more efficiently.
  • Reduce the total amount of gas/energy consumed in traffic.
  • Allow mid-size cities to stop wasting money on bus schedules that don't run frequently enough to be of much use to the majority of the population.
Here are the specifics of a web-based ride sharing system that would achieve such goals:
  •  The ride sharing website allows you to register as a rider or driver (or both).  If you are a driver, you must submit information that identifies all of the vehicles that you might use to pick people up, such as license plate numbers and car photos.  All drivers and riders must submit a couple of high quality mug-shots.
  • Each user (driver or rider) can choose to have their physical location monitored, perhaps by the GPS on a smart phone, or by periodic manual updates.
  • Each user submits as much information as possible about their travel plans.  Regular commutes can be entered as repeating events in a calendar. 
  • A simple statistical algorithm does pairwise comparisons of trip descriptions between riders and drivers, and displays the complementary trips to the respective users.
  • For longer trips that are planned in advance, users may send messages to each other to make arrangements for a ride share.
  • Other rides may function like a bus ride.  A rider may walk out to the road, holding the smart phone, and, having selected real-time location monitoring, can be seen by all approaching drivers whose scheduled trip has them passing by the rider.  The rider clicks on all oncoming drivers with compatible plans (perhaps ranking them in order of desirability).  Similarly, drivers with available seats may pause momentarily by the road to click to offer rides to any riders ahead.  Once a match is made, the rider disappears from the list of riders that is viewable by all other drivers.
  • A user rating system allows riders and drivers to flag other users who act inappropriately.  Users may consider other user's ratings when considering who to partner with for travel.
  • Users have control over personal privacy settings that allows them to restrict who can view their photos, location, and other such information.
  • Drivers can set prices for rides, as well as specify forms of payment.  Payment options could include phone-to-phone money transfer or cash.

Several ride sharing websites, already exist, offering bits and pieces of the grand scheme outlined above.  Unfortunately, the political culture currently makes it difficult for these services to gain momentum.  Over-regulation of the taxi industry in municipalities has given ride sharing services a hard time.  Here's to dreaming of a free-er future and better transportation.


Anonymous ReddUp said...

Just FYI, a cool thing called "sluglines" appeared in the Virginia suburbs of DC a few years ago sans internet. People in need of a ride queue up at predetermined locations and drivers who need passengers to use the HOV lanes pick them up.

It works because there are only a handful of "high-density" destinations for rush hour commuters, so it's not generalizable. But it's cool nonetheless.

6:30 AM  

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