Monday, November 14, 2005

Technology and incentives to increase carpooling

Came across this short article in the Houston Business Journal last week on the new H-GAC NuRide program.

In what the council is hailing as the nation's first incentive-based ride network, NuRide enables commuters to plan trips online and to collect rewards for riding together.

Other areas currently using the program include Washington, D.C.; New York; and Connecticut.

NuRide commuters pick the days and times that they would like to share a ride and sign-up online, similar to booking an airline ticket. The program then matches each rider with others traveling to the same destination -- allowing commuters to rideshare once a month or every day, depending on their schedule and needs.

As a safety measure, NuRide is set up through employers, which allows for verification of each rider's identity. A potential ride-sharer can learn about another NuRide participant by clicking on the NuRider's username to reveal where he works, his travel information and how other NuRiders have rated him.

Employees using the program are also awarded points that are redeemable for gift cards to retailers like Old Navy and T.G.I. Friday's. Local users have received $22,000 in rewards since the program's inception, according to H-GAC.

I actually had a web site idea similar to this back in the late '90s, but passed on it for better opportunities. It's a great idea. It addresses two of the biggest issues with carpooling: finding others with the same route, and vetting them for compatibility. And the incentives are a nice touch to go along with the pre-existing incentives of saving money and using faster HOV lanes.

The only thing it doesn't address is schedule inflexibility. I think the next useful step would be to help people create back-up options if they're running early or late in the morning or evening. "My usual route is this carpool, but I can go earlier on this Metro bus or later in this H-GAC vanpool if needed." Those options may end up slower or less direct, but at least they're usable options. Maybe include some cell phone text messaging interfaces to communicate as needed with those other car or vanpoolers if your schedule changes.

Longer-term, I expect to see new wireless technologies with real-time location information to really revolutionize transit and car/vanpool use by rapidly computing options between any two points. Throw in a competitive free market of private providers, and you might get something really interesting...


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