Okay, here’s what we need – a taxi/bus service that is run by every driver on the road. You leave your house, open up this amazing new taxi service app on your smart phone and you click the “PICK ME UP” button. Minutes later, a stranger in a car arrives and takes you to your destination. Drivers who run this app on their smartphone are alerted when they’re approaching a person who needs a ride so that they can pull over. GPS-equipped smartphones make all this happen, of course.
There’s a rating system, similar to eBay, so you can rate both drivers and passengers with things like “10 STARS, he took me directly to my destination!” or “1 STAR, he drove me into a back alley and molested me!” You’ll be able to set up your account so that you’re only picked up by people who have “x” amount of stars. On a normal day you could stick with 8+ star drivers, but when you’re desperate, you make an exception for any driver available. Same thing with passengers, you can set it up so you’re only alerted to 8+ star passengers so that you don’t get mugged or driven into the middle of a drug deal.
There would be minimal cost to passengers since drivers would already be out on the road, doing whatever it is they do. Maybe drivers could even set their own prices, but ideally this could all be based on some kind of credits system, where you earn credits for picking up passengers and you spend credits for getting rides. That way if you’re both a regular driver and a regular passenger, you might be able to get away with never having to spend any money. For those that only take rides, they could buy credits. Credits could be exchanged with other members of the service, so you could barter credits for goods or services. People would start listing their stuff on Craigslist or eBay with things like, “Dining table for sale. Price: 50 ride credits, or best offer.” Kind of like those existing online bartering services, where you trade stuff/services for stuff/services.
Since this would rely on existing smart phones that everyone already has, there would be no new infrastructure to build. All it would take would be an app on your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc. And I’m sure we’d work out a system for non-smart phones so that it could all be done via texting or by regular phone calls, like, “Press 1 if your GPS location is ________…”
This could become huge without government approval if an app were made for it for all the major smart phones. By the time government got around to whining that they’re not making any money from it, it would already be such a popular service that they’d have to accommodate the people who use it. Maybe they’d enforce some kind of tax on it, but it’d still be an awesomely cheap way to travel and run errands. Smaller cities would probably love an excuse to ditch their city buses since nobody ever uses them. Enterprising individuals could buy their own vans and make a living from going around and picking people up. Taxi companies would hate all of this and lobby for an end to it, but they would still have a few decades of life left from senior citizens that don’t know how to operate a cell phone.
If something like this existed, I would be both a driver and a rider. I like picking up hitchhikers anyway, and it’d be fun to have random strangers in my car as I drive to the grocery store or up to Salem. And I’d definitely use the service for my regular trips to Portland. That’s a 90 minute drive for me and at current gas prices, it costs me $15 – $20 just to drive to Portland and back. I usually park my car as soon as I get there so I can take the train everywhere. If I could “pay” half of that in credits, that would be awesome. And it would basically be free if I was giving people rides around town all the time. Eventually I would ditch my car if a service like this really took off.
And imagine having the ability to electronically hitch a ride with someone to take you across the country. The app would find people who’ve scheduled a trip to Florida and you could contact them to drop you off in Texas along the way. You wouldn’t have to worry about their car breaking down halfway there, because you’d just use your app to find a ride the rest of the way there from Arizona. You could also ditch that person halfway through the trip because they were annoying or listened to country music. I know people do this already on Craigslist, but this would even better.
In the end, a fairly large chunk of any given city’s population would ditch their cars because the service is so reliable. Even if a tiny percentage of the drivers on the road offered the service from their cars, that would still be a faster way to travel than by bus. Albany’s population is about 50,000 people. What if just 1% of the people offered the service? That’d be 500 rides available throughout the day. Compare that to the half dozen buses we’ve got in Albany, if we even have that many. Even 1/4th of a percent would be huge, compared to current public transportation. And the service could become so popular that we’d end up with a lot more than just 500 cars a day on the road. The government might end up loving the idea so much that they’d offer some kind of incentive for people to utilize the service.
It could go the other way too, though. The government might hate that people suddenly aren’t buying as much gas or paying taxes on their costly car repairs and they’d ban the service. Insurance companies might have issues with people using their cars “commercially.” Taxi companies would surely hate the entire idea and bus companies in big cities would too. But screw all of them! Somebody steal this idea ASAP and make it happen. And when you become rich from the idea, fly to Oregon and buy me a steak dinner.
I’ve posted before about how much I hate being such a slave to my car. Car payments, car repairs, oil changes, GAS, insurance, having to trade in for a new car every 5 – 10 years. That stuff really adds up. I would love having the option to ditch my car forever, and I probably will once my kids are grown up. Ditching your car isn’t an easy thing to do in a medium-sized town like this, though. Maybe by the time I’m ready to do that, someone will steal this idea of mine and we’ll have freelance bus drivers all over the road. Or maybe something like this already exists and I’ve just never heard of it. Hrmmmm, time to go look at my phone’s app store…