For lots of workers around the world, perhaps especially those using public transportation, the daily commute is a necessary evil that wastes a lot of time. Waiting around for a bus, train, or other mode of transportation is annoying, but seems to be an inevitable component of the system.
Engineer Sean O’Sullivan, a resident of Ireland, wasn’t willing to just roll over and accept that public transportation has to be inefficient. So, he co-founded a company called Avego, a spin-off of sorts from MapInfo (News - Alert), putting GPS and GIS technology to work making it faster to get from Point A to Point B.
“Mass transportation is one of the least automated parts of our daily lives,” explained Paul Steinberg, director of Americas for Avego, during a recent TMCnet video interview.
That lack of automation, he went on, contributes to inefficient use of transportation, which is at its core a commodity.
“If you stand at a bus stop for ten minutes, waiting for a bus, there are probably at least a dozen vehicles that pass by going to exactly where you’re going,” Steinberg said.
Avego’s solution to this problem is a set of tools that matches commuters up with available seats in car, buses or other vehicles.
To participate in this automated system, drivers of carpooling vehicles need only download an app (available now for iPhone (News - Alert) and Windows 7, coming soon for Android) to their smartphones. Optionally, they can also enter schedules and routes they regularly drive.
To find an empty seat, riders need only go to a website, or send a text message requesting a ride—immediately, or up to several days in advance.
“We believe the reason only 50 percent of the population car-pools today is because of our dynamic lifestyle,” Steinberg said. “People don’t know when they’re going to leave, and when they’re ready they want to leave right then.”
Avego was initially launched three years ago, and since then several hundred thousand copies of the app have been downloaded, in 63 countries. ‘Hotspots’ of activity have formed in Norway and Ireland.
The U.S. is a somewhat more challenging market for Avego, but even so several pilots are underway or planned. The first of these is in Seattle, where the Washington Department of Transportation enlisted Avego’s help to reduce congestion across the 520 bridge, which is used by commuters to and from Redmond and the Microsoft (News - Alert) campus.
Washington DOT plans to add more lanes to the bridge, but that will take 5-10 years, and in the meantime Avego’s service, coupled with lower tolls for carpoolers, is helping reduce traffic congestion.
Meanwhile, Steinberg said, other areas where Avego might gain traction include San Francisco and Houston, where carpooling tends to happen naturally. Success in gaining the critical mass needed to make the system worthwhile does depend, though, on partnership with transportation departments to create financial incentives for carpooling.
“In the Bay Area, where there is car-pooling occurring naturally, bridge tolls were recently increased for all vehicles, with carpoolers paying half price” Steinberg noted. “Carpooling used to be free. Just adding the tolls dropped car-pooling by 50 percent.”
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Mae Kowalke is a TMCnet contributor. She is Manager of Stories at Neundorfer, Inc., a cleantech company in Northeast Ohio. She has more than 10 years experience in journalism, marketing and communications, and has a passion for new tech gadgets. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell