Social Networking and Phone Apps Enable Smarter Carpooling

While the installation of telematics systems for OEMs is here and growing, the use and integration of smart phones apps, GPS and location based services combined with social networking are creating opportunities beyond the OEMs.

Startups are emerging and gaining traction to serve carpoolers, vanpoolers, fleets and buses by integrating many of the same innovative smart phone tools and apps, GPS and LBS services, social networking strategies and even payment systems. Efficiencies in fuel savings, time, and cost savings benefit individuals and companies. Think of them as carpooling meets Facebook meets Loopt meets eBay meets PayPal and eBay!

Although regions differ, 77 % of the US population drives alone, and people are spending more than 100 hours a year commuting to work which creates a big opportunity to fill many open seats. One company estimates each open seat is worth $3,000 and AAA places annual car costs at $9,000 per year. With gas price fluctuations, congested roads, HOV time-saving opportunities, parking challenges, and climate concerns, significant growth opportunities may be on the horizon.

Traditional Ridesharing
Basic carpooling or vanpooling services are often funded by regional governments or planning organizations in an effort to reduce road congestion and pollution in more dense urban areas. Most regions are serviced by expensive software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers and promoted by those government agencies or non-profits, but startup companies are emerging to compete with larger providers.

Dynamically formed carpools, called “sluglines,” are the ultimate social network that benefits drivers and riders, saving money, time and resulting in an improved quality of life for each. Sluglines exist in the Washington DC area, San Francico and other cities to a lesser extent. This simple example allows people to engage in trusted carpooling that works for everyone’s benefit.

The “carpooling industry” continues to face challenges related to standard terms (rideshare, carpool, liftshare, etc.) safety concerns, flexibility, or finding the ideal ride partner. Those ideal ride partners are often based on time (e.g. when you have to get to work) and departure and arrival location. Economics often plays a major role in the decision to seek a shared ride.

Startups Integrate Convergence of Tech and Social Networks
The combination of location aware devices, location based services and social networking strategies provide numerous easily integrated solutions. Like any social network, volume is the key to creating connections and efficiencies and the related personalization of its users. Closed networks, like universities or internal corporate programs, offer the safety of known people within a trusted group. Volume and quality or closer connections is a key factor in these groups taking off as research often sites safety and security as a top concern for carpoolers and vanpoolers.

These startups are gaining traction within the natural networks of university environments and large corporations. At some companies parking challenges and space needs fuel the need for these programs, many of whom also service and integrate shuttle services. GPS tracking and real-time location information pushed through SMS notifications are often provided by these startups, resulting in a more informed and prepared traveler.

Common features amongst many of the providers include:

  • Use of location aware devices and smart phones
  • Regularly scheduled and one-time, real-time rides on demand
  • Privacy settings to allow for personalization and trust within the system
  • Individual profiles to view and match potential riders
  • Feedback system to rate or rank experiences
  • Closed network of common, trusted members
  • Public and open ridematching
  • Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) reductions
  • Emissions reporting
  • SMS information pushed based on settings

The startup integration of converging technologies may serve a growing need. Think of them as carpooling meets Facebook meets Loopt meets eBay meets PayPal and eBay.

Look for a more in-depth overview of these companies to come. For now, the company names and their partial tag lines tell their story.

Avego – Real-time ridesharing for the iPhone generation
Carticipate – An Experiment in Social Transportation
GoLoco – The Ride Revolution
GooseNetworks – Enterprise Commuter Management Technology
RideCell - Web based software to make carpooling and using public transit easier and safer for your employees.
PickUpPal – On Your Way – Drivers and Passengers Connecting Online
Zimride – Community powered, Sustainable Transportation

About Kevin Shannon:
Manages Twitter: @ConnectedCar

Technology and transportation marketing.

See: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinshannon1

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