Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Following on from one of the suggestions from the previous post, perhaps it would be interesting to set up a kind of couchsurfing-esque website for carpooling. With the sheer number of people driving around the clock from one location to another in otherwise empty cars it seems inefficient not to make full use of all available space in a vehicle. In areas with high degrees of vehicle ownership and participation, it would not be unimaginable for one to be able get a lift at any time of day with minimum fuss and at no cost.

This is how it would work: A registered user who will be heading to 1 Utama at seven o’clock in the evening posts an offer on the website earlier in the day indicating his destination and time of embarkation, then sets the duration of the offer. Along with this he indicates his general area of residence and catchment area, within which the driver is willing to pick up passengers. This may be as wide-ranging as blanket coverage on a town or as focused as a path through selected streets.

Other interested users can respond to the offer as long as they are: within his catchment area, his destination is the same as that of the driver or is at some point along the way, the passenger slots have not all been taken up, it is within the valid offer duration. The driver can check for requests at any time during or after the offer period and respond to those persons he would like to ferry as long as this is done before his stated time of departure. Enquiring users can also select a time limit for a response to their request, after which it is automatically revoked. This is to give flexibility to would-be passengers to plan ahead with alternative offers should the driver select other passengers. As time is an important factor in such transactions, it would be possible for responses to be sent via mobile text as well as through e-mail. Once arrangements have been finalised, passengers only have to wait at the mutually agreed upon pick-up point for the driver and Bob's your uncle.

The entire system would run on recommendations and ratings. Those who give out more rides than they take will have healthy carpooling ratios while freeloaders who only hitch rides but never offer one back will suffer from poor ratios and find that fewer drivers are willing to pick them up. Drivers will also be rated and given comments by their passengers and vice versa. This is not only to identify those prone to tardiness or bad driving or disruptive behaviour but allows users to identify others with similar sense of what is 'appropriate'—one man’s poor lane discipline is another’s slick maneuvering, after all.

Each user would be the centre of a set of contacts organized by degrees of trust and familiarity. Those most trusted or most familiar (family and personal friends) would occupy the layer closest to centre with those of which one has less knowledge (friends of friends by varying degrees of separation or complete strangers) would occupy progressively distal layers. Every successful transaction—defined as a happy driver and a happy passenger at the end of the trip—not only ups participants’ ratings, it leads to an increase in the familiarity quotient of one in the other’s network. It then becomes easy to identify drivers or passengers with whom one’s own trusted friends has had successful dealings. This entire system could be piggybacked on an existing social networking sites such as Facebook for obvious reasons.

The advantages of the scheme are multiple. Firstly, on the most basic level, there would be decent savings to be made by participants in terms of their monthly fuel expenditure, so long as one does not operate an excessively vast catchment area. Secondly, this service could also provide a means for strengthening social cohesiveness within the boundaries of physical neighbourhoods, which can bring about numerous benefits. Thirdly, it stands to supplant our disappointing public transportation system, forcing operators to better their services or fold. Lastly, and most interestingly, such a system could potentially seed a future network for labour-exchange services similar to the Cincinnati Time Store or other time-based currency projects, which would offer an alternative means of trade more broadly equitable to everyone regardless of income.

Not bad at all for just driving around a little more friendly-like.

posted by Hong at 7:19 am | Permalink |