“MARK my word,” Henry Ford declared in 1940, “A combination of airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” No doubt flying cars will eventually make their fashionably late arrival on the scene. But for the more immediate future of transportation, best is to take a look at a less futuristic and, ahem, more down-to-earth trend: carpooling.
This month Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar all launched carpooling services in San Francisco. Users can opt to share a ride with a stranger travelling along the same route at the same time for about half the price of a solo journey. Uber is in raptures at the disruptive ingenuity of its new service called UberPool: “The implications are profound… This is a bold social experiment… a brave new world.”
Yet a more interesting variation of the concept (which has been around for quite some time on the old continent in the form of sites such as BlaBlaCar and Mitfahrzentrale.de) is the service offered by Bridj, a startup based in Boston. It crunches data from many sources, including Google Earth, Facebook, the census and municipal records, to see where people live and work. The results are used to create routes that respond to commuters’ needs, rather than force them to conform to existing routes, many of which no longer match the flow of traffic. As more people use Bridj, plugging in their points of origin and destination, the “smarter” the system becomes, supplying customised, pop-up routes where people need them. The firm’s data scientists can even anticipate popular routes—for instance, in advance of a major concert or sporting event.