Common standards are key for more succesful online rideshare programs (Climate Change Business Journal)

I was interviewed for the Climate Change Business Journal‘s Transportation Edition.  Here’s an excerpt discussing the online ridematching space and what drives successful programs and companies in that space.

Indeed, using information technology to facilitate ridesharing and transit usage appears to be a growing business that can make these low-carbon travel modes more convenient and attractive. “We’ve see an evolution in the technology,” said Aaron Antrim, president of Trillium Transit Solutions (Portland, Ore.), a three-per- son IT consulting firm that specializes in helping small- and medium-sized transit districts migrate their routes and schedules to Google Transit, the trip planner integrated in Google Maps that currently includes data for over 120 U.S. transit agencies.

“At first the iPhone could only plan driving trips, now it plans driving, transit and walking trips,” said Antrim. “Google Maps now includes biking directions, although that hasn’t shown up on the iPhone yet…. I think in the future mobile devices are going to become more and more powerful and useful for finding and comparing travel options, including transit, carpooling, walking, car-share, taxi, all the options, and compare them by cost and even greenhouse gas impact,” said Antrim. “Multimodal trip planning is going to be a killer app on mobile devices.”

Firms like Avego (Kinsale, Ireland) and Goose Networks (Seattle) are marketing web-enabled ride-matching and commute management programs. Avego sells a system that incentivizes drivers to pick up passengers along their route because passengers pay a per-mile fee to defray costs. Goose Networks sells software and services to organizations that want to measure and report the impact of their members commute activities.

There are many regional ridesharing and car/vanpooling websites and ser- vices such as San Luis Obispo County’s, which sells monthly vanpool commuting packages ($139 a month for a 50-mile roundtrip) in the Northeast and which is focused on college students.  And many people use Facebook or Twitter to find and share rides.

“There are many many different websites and companies out there, but few are really working because they’re not getting a critical mass of users,” said Antrim. “What successful companies like Goose Networks and Zimride have found is that they have to target a group of people with similar travel behavior, corporate campuses or educational institutions being the most common. They also need an external incentive or promotional program to sell the idea.” Antrim said the ridesharing business also needs a common data specification to allow potential users to find and compare their options from multiple services. “There are so many different sites and options that the user base is being divided up,” he said. “In fixed route transit, we have the General Transit Feed Specification for schedules, routes and fares. That doesn’t exist yet for carpooling.”