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iPhone users can save the environment, meet strangers with chainsaws

November 14, 2008 |  2:48 pm

Carpool So maybe gas prices aren't that high anymore and you're tempted to buy a Hummer and drive to Florida. But how about resisting the temptation and instead saving the environment with your iPhone? No, we’re not talking about finding public transportation schedules or bike shops or walking routes. We’re talking about something much more fun and potentially sketchy: ride-sharing.

By the end of the month, a company called Mapflow is planning to launch Avego, an iPhone app that tracks people's driving routes to work, then matches the drivers with people looking for rides. The people looking for rides don't have to have iPhones, which is pretty much how society works anyway: Those with iPhones have nice cars and jobs places to go and those without are left in the Stone Age.

Here’s how it works: a driver with a GPS-enabled iPhone downloads Avego. The app tracks common routes he takes. On any given morning, he selects where he’s going, and Avego suggests potential riders along his route. If he decides to give one a ride, his iPhone will tell him ...

... a safe place to pull over and show him a picture of the rider so he doesn't end up with some chainsaw-wielding hitchhiker.

They drive to where they're going, and the rider and driver "enjoy a pleasant conversation," according to Avego promotional materials. They rate each other on a scale of 1 to 5 (Avego doesn't specify what the parameters are; we're guessing smell, punctuality and the ability to enjoy a pleasant conversation). Avego calculates the costs of the ride so the driver and passenger can split it.

It's the latest in a slew of high- and low-tech programs to get people to share rides. In places like the Bay Area and Washington, D.C., lines of people wait in suburbs for drivers to pick them up and take them into the city. The drivers get to use the HOV lane, the passengers get a ride, and nobody speaks, so it works out for the best. And a service called Hitchsters, started in New York, just made its way to Northern California. It's worked out a way for strangers to share town cars to and from the airport.

"The Avego concept is to take all the empty seats flowing down our roads and turn them into travel options for consumers, recognizing that there's a tremendous amount of waste out there," said Sean O'Sullivan, chairman of Dublin, Ireland-based Mapflow, which created Avego. (O'Sullivan says he's only 92% Irish).

The app has the potential to save commuters time and money, but it also has the potential to make the morning commute a miserable hell of small talk at the best and serial killers at the worst. But O'Sullivan says that using Avego is safer than taking a taxi, because the system tracks whenever a rider and driver share a ride.

If Avego succeeds, it will take some cars off the road. It also will likely take some buses and taxis off the road. That's why bus companies in Ontario, Canada, recently asked the government to make ride-sharing websites illegal. No word whether ride-sharing apps in Ontario will face the same fate.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo by VirtualErn via Flickr

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