Over the last decade or so ridesharing has started to become a political topic. As there has become an increased focus on missions of CO2 and other dangerous greenhourse gasses, people have started looking into the biggest sources. There are a number of different sources, but roadbased transportation is one the places it is possible to reduce the emissions just by introducing more efficient handling of the load.
A number of different fields are involved in these activities. Optimizing the freight by road, boat and plane are covered by intelligent transport systems (ITS), traffic optimizing are handled by expert systems that detects congested areas and crowd control and psychology is involved in management of bottlenecks on the highways. And then we have the last field - which is connected to shortdistance commuting.
There are some pretty interesting figures that have been calculated for ridesharing. Today there is about 1.1 people pr. car. Just by increasing the number to 1.4 during the rushhour, this would be enought to completely remove the congestion. Less congestion equals less greenhouse gasses - and suddenly everybody from the environmentalists to the traffic department are starting to become interested.
The situation today is that there are a lot of ridesharing programs that have been initiated all over the world, a few have been moderatly successful, but noone has ever made any major impact. Why is that? On how to create a solution that actually works and will get used?
These are all good questions - and there does of course not exist any definitive answer. But it might help to start looking at what kind of alternatives commuters have. In order to get from point A to B one may go by bus or by train - but most likely people will go by car. The reasons are many, but most of it has to do with the freedom driving a car represents. That this freedom in reality only means the freedom to be stuck in a trafficjam is of course a completely different matter.
Another matter is that the car represents a comfort zone, the personal space of the driver. This is not something many drivers are willing to give up just like that. There are some ways to get around the steady increase of the number of cars. One of them is to be part of a carcollective - a solution where a number of drivers owns shares in a car, and where they sign up for when they need to use it. This is a good way of distributing the cost of owning a car, simultaniously as the traffic load may be reduced a little. Hower, this contributes a very little to the overall picture.
The only way to lessen the burden on the infrastructure is in other words to have more people riding together. And in order to do that, one has to let go of some of the comfort. So now the questions is more how to make transission from a commuter to a ridesharer easier for the participants.
What numerous reports and feedback indicates is that what most ridesharers are looking for is security, convenience, instant gratification, and reduced costs. In short - most of the same advantages of having their own car - with the exception of having a comfort zone.
Knowing this, one has to examine what has made other ridesharing programs successfull. Most of them have had relatively homogenous usergroups - campus and universitystudents, they have had different kinds of contracts - simplifying the process of getting started and who to ride with, and some have been offered incentives like free parking, reduced road toll, and rights to use the 2+ lane on the highway.
After a lot of discussing we were able to narrow the successfactors down to a few keypoints;
- ease of use - quickly get started, preferrably with just one or two clicks
- security - a way to identify the passenger or driver when arriving as well as being able to trigger an alarm to a central during the ride.
- different roles - being a driver or a passenger - both having their advantages
- being able to define preferences - like preferred gender of passenger or driver and language
- being able to specify relationship with driver or passenger - friends and family, neighbours, collegues, or random people
- being able to specify different means of transportation (car, van, bus, taxi, ...)
- being offered alternative transportation methods if a ridesharer is not available
- being able to receive guidelines on how to arrive at the pickup place
- being able to manage the ridesharing on a mobile platform of the users choice (iPhone, Windows mobile, etc.)
- easy way to expand rideshare area (what I call "the ridesharer experience")
- have patience and let the ridesharer program be allowed to grow
Actually - everything mentioned above is technological possible and economical feasible. What it needs is the willingness to develop the systems that are necessary - on the clientside and on ther serverside. There are a number of other nice-to-have features that could - and perhaps should - be included. The most important of these is a driverlog where the ridesharer can see the route, distance and driver/passenger that shared that ride. These data could later on be used for eco-rewards or some other kind of incentives.
There are also a number of other ways of making ridesharing programs popular. The easist method is actually by making the ridesharers themself be visible - for instance by allowing them to use the busstops for transit. This sends a pretty strong signal to other travellers that ridesharing is a viable option. Another method is simething as simple as creating a catchy name - and to partner up with some large companies within a given area getting them to market the program.
But finally - ridesharing is a social experience. One has to use the best aspects of the net - instant messaging applications, social portals like facebook and myspace, blogs and mesh it all together making it possible for people to automatically start participating in ridesharing programs without having to put too much thought and effort into it.
I will be going into more detail on how to exactly how to do this in later installments of this blog, but I will let it be for now.