Using social software for good: car pooling

Paul Resnick is researching on “ride sharing services that dynamically match riders with rides”. Read the very interesting and clear SocioTechnical Support for Ride Sharing scenario document. The idea is to make car pooling easier using ICT. If your interests contain trust, recommender systems and making the earth a better place, you should definitely read the paper. Maybe I’ll try to put up a project and submit to the local government, there was a car pooling project in Trento but it seems dead. Contact me if you are interested! [My impression is that often research does not produce useful and real benefit for society, this is a case in which we can put our brain activity for creating something useful and that can make a difference].

Excerpt from SocioTechnical Support for Ride Sharing by Paul Resnick, Associate Professor University of Michigan, School of Information

I. Intro/Overview
In America, there is tremendous unused transportation capacity in the form of unoccupied seats in private vehicles. Not only would filling some of those seats reduce smog, congestion, and fuel consumption, but it also could create opportunities for increasing local social capital. The major barriers to ride sharing include coordination of routes and schedules, safety risks, social discomfort with sharing what are currently private spaces, and an imbalance of costs and benefits among the affected parties. Despite these barriers, ride sharing does occur, both in the form of recurring carpools and van pools. According to one estimate, more than twice as many people in America share a ride to work in a private vehicle as use public transportation to get there [ref.] In a few cities, there is even instant ride sharing among strangers. Emerging changes in the technology infrastructure of our society may soon make it possible to reduce some of the barriers that have limited the appeal of instant ride sharing. The first change is the widespread deployment of cell phones and other mobile communication devices, with the prospect that they soon be integrated with a position-sensing infrastructure. The second is advances in computational power that may allow for dynamic route matching of drivers and riders. The third is the development of reputation systems on the Internet for maintaining trust among strangers. Research is need on how to leverage these developments to create a SocioTechnical infrastructure for instant ride sharing.

II. Scenario
Janine is new to instant ride-sharing. She is twenty-five and single. She s trying to save money and besides, it s such a hassle to park at the hospital where she works as a research assistant administering clinical trials. She sometimes stays late at work, so she never joined a carpool, but she s decided to try the new Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti instant carpool system. She was a little worried about taking rides with strange men, so she set her profile to only accept rides from women, or from men who had a history of giving at least 10 previous rides without any complaints from riders. She logs onto the website and enters her address and her destination address. She finds that if she walks only to the corner of her current block, she ll have to wait an average of 15 minutes to get a ride, and sometimes much longer, but if she walks two blocks further, to a main street, she can usually get a ride within 3 minutes. She decides to walk the two blocks. This first morning, she s kind of curious about what kind of person picks up riders, so she checks off the box that indicates she s willing to converse the driver.
She s still a little nervous, so she doesn t allow any of her personal information (name, address, or interests) to be revealed to the driver. She s talked to other people who found people to play music with or got a ride all the way home by revealing some information, but she s decided to wait and see how the whole system works first. As she walks out the door, she calls the number she had pre-programmed into her cell phone. The system tracks her progress as she walks to the main street and tells her that a blue Toyota Matrix is just three blocks away and that she should hold up her instant ride-share sign. It gives her a code that she s supposed to say to the driver, and a code that the driver is supposed to say to her. Sure enough, the car pulls up. The driver is a forty-something woman, smartly dressed with a white lab coat on the passenger seat. They exchange codes and Janine jumps in the back. The driver asks Janine what she does at the hospital and soon they discover that the driver and Janine s boss are good friends from way back, and tells a humorous story about her boss when he was first getting started in medical research. As they pull into a choice parking space at the hospital parking lot, reserved for multiple occupant vehicles, the driver smiles and says, You saved me 5 minutes driving around and around in this lot. Thanks. Maybe I ll take you again some time, but my schedule s very irregular so I m not sure when. Thank you! says Janine as they walk off in different directions. As she walks away, she calls the ride sharing system again from her cell phone and presses a button to indicate that she arrived safely, that she would be happy to ride with that driver again, and that she recommends her to other passengers.

[/end of Excerpt]

2 thoughts on “Using social software for good: car pooling

  1. Antti Hannula

    Hi folks,

    we have actually already developed such a dynamic carpool service (based on the mobile phones). It’s up and running in The Netherlands ( – more info can be found at our site

    We are constantly looking for companies and people who would be interested in future implementations of the same service in different cities!

    With kind regards,

  2. paolo

    Hi Antti,
    I’m browsing now the sites you mentioned (although dutch is not the easiest language ;-)

    Seems very interesting. I’m thinking about proposing such a project to the autonomous Trento province (north-east of Italy). I’ll ask you more details… but did you create some free software? free as in freedom of course, read GPL-licenced

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *