Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kaohsiung 2010 Papers: Making ridesharing easy

As I sat in traffic on Auckland's North-Western motorway, all alone in my cocoon, I could see that others were doing the same. Looking across, I could see each person, alone in their car, and I wondered if they might be heading to the same place as me?
Express Carpooling: Making ridesharing easy

- Paul Minett, Co-Founder and CEO, Trip Convergence Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand

Studying those people in those cars, I also realised that they were different people every day. I never felt that I lined up with the same person more than once, so if we had a similar trip, it coincided only that once.

I hate waste, and it seemed to me that we were all wasting: time, fuel, and the environment, as we sat there in slow moving traffic that would have been moving more quickly if there were fewer vehicles. Not fewer people, but fewer vehicles.

The invention that resulted from all this sitting and looking and thinking, I now call 'express carpooling'.

We have also called it flexible carpooling, HOVER, meeting-place based carpooling, and 'carpooling without pre-arrangement'.

On the 4th of October we are expecting to commence operations with our very first implementation of Express Carpooling, in the city of Auckland, New Zealand.

All the reasons for sharing rides make sense. The participants save money and burn less fuel. The rest of the traffic moves more quickly, saving money and burning less fuel. Everybody wins. But the process by which carpools are formed, that is where we have come up with something that is quite different.

Express Carpooling

The big question as I sat looking at those other slow moving single occupant vehicle drivers was: 'what would it take to get us in a car together?' (And I wasn't looking for a date!)

Although inconvenient when stuck in traffic, a car is a very convenient mode of travel, and clearly millions of people like to drive cars. But what would it take to make it easy for me and that random person in the next car to end up riding together? And to have even more savings, to have a third or fourth person as well?

What sort of a problem is this?

I did some study and found that most people think it is an information problem. So many people think it is an information problem that there are hundreds of solutions now available that treat it as an information problem. What do I mean by 'an information problem'?

I mean, a problem that will be solved by providing information to the users of the system. In this case, those large number of solutions respond to the idea that the answer to 'what would it take to get us in a car together', is that we need to know each other, or be able to find each other using information systems. We just need to find that person who is doing the same trip as us, and then we will ride together.

Calling the problem an information problem leads to information-system style answers. "If only people would go to the notice board they would find all the other people who are going their way at their time," the thinking goes, and nirvana will be achieved.

Guess what? The probability of finding that person is incredibly small. That they might be looking at the same time you are looking, and that as you both look you happen on each other? That requires incredibly good luck, and is not likely to happen more than once in a blue moon.

How about if it was not an information problem, but an assembly problem? By calling it an assembly problem, you are saying: given that these cars and these people are all heading for the same place, is there a simple way of helping them to shift over into fewer vehicles?

And express carpooling is born.

We plan to provide:

1. Parking facilities at the convergence point, so we can leave some vehicles behind;
2. A membership system with pre-screening so that we all know the participants are safe drivers and not violent criminals;
3. Member ID and a tracking system so we know who rides with whom;
4. The convergence-point parking laid out by destination. Meaning, there is an area in the parking facility for each key destination (such as Downtown, University, Airport, Hospital, etc);
5. Ride-credits that transfer from riders to drivers, that have value so that the benefits of sharing are shared fairly between the participants.

As the members arrive at the parking facility, they form fuller cars in order of arrival. There is no pre-arrangement of which vehicle each person will ride in. All carpools are made up of at least three people.

We catalyse the operations of the route by advertising membership, and providing incentives and rewards for participation. We also make it fun by providing daily quizzes and prize draws.

For each route we are seeking 150-200 members. These would all be people going to the same general destination area.

Hibiscus Coast Express Carpooling

In the first implementation of the system, the destination is a bus station. The bus station has a park-and-ride (parking lot) with 550 spaces. They are going to dedicate 86 of those spaces to people arriving in carpools. Our system will easily deliver at least 50 carpools each day. The Hibiscus Coast is 12.5 km from the bus station, and many people make this journey.

At the Hibiscus Coast we will create a conspicuous meeting-place with parking for about 100 people, near a residential area.

If the people who use express carpooling would otherwise have driven alone, we will reduce Vehicle Kilometers Travelled by almost 2 million per year. The savings in energy and emissions will be significant.

To follow what we are doing, please visit For more information about express carpooling please see For an animation of the system (that we previously called HOVER) please see We have a Facebook page called Raspberry Rideshare. Seek it out and be its friend!

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About the author:

Paul Minett is co-founder of Trip Convergence Ltd, and co-inventor of flexible carpooling. Invented without knowledge of the slug-lines, flexible carpooling can best be described as a formalisation of that unique method of carpool formation found in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area (also known as "casual carpooling"). Arguing that for more carpooling we need meeting places rather than databases, Mr. Minett has been making steady progress towards testing of this alternative mode.   The system of express carpooling will be launched under the brand name Raspberry Rideshare, and the service will be called the Raspberry Express

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