If you're a commuter, chances are you drive to work alone -- after all, 76% of us do, producing three quarters of all transportation emissions along the way. The whole point of the book Bowling Alone is that Americans aren't as sociable as they used to be -- only 64% drove alone in 1980 -- and that's why the carpool bit the dust.
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A company called Avego thinks it has a solution for our wired-in times. It does require relating to other human beings, though. "Shared Transport" is a variation on the informal "slugging" or "casual carpooling" that has grown up around congested highways in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Because cars with two or more occupants can travel in the HOV lanes, people gather at set take-up points for free rides.
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Avego Shared Transport is a free iPhone app for on-demand ride-sharing, and it's just been updated to be more user-friendly. The driver, registered online by Avego, gets ride requests on the iPhone from would-be riders.
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According to Steve Hansen of ITS America, a transit-promoting nonprofit that gave Avego an award for its ride-sharing app, drivers verify the rider's identity with a one-time auto-generated PIN number. The driver is directed to the pick-up point, and the rider gets regular GPS-based updates on the car's approach. The market incentive is $1 plus 20 cents a mile automatically debited from the rider's account. The driver gets 85 percent of the money and Avego 15 percent.
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Worried that you'll pick up a serial killer or maybe just a creep? There's no guarantee you won't, but Avego says it will introduce a self-policing feature that includes a one- to five-star rating for riders and drivers. According to Jason Conley, director of government relations at Avego, users will also have an opportunity to make filtered matches -- e.g., same sex or non-smokers only. Conley said any reported incidents would result in the rapid expulsion of the responsible party.
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Enterprising souls can create their own Avego ride-sharing communities anywhere (and it's not limited to the U.S.). But Avego will launch programs in partnership with local governments in several cities over the next couple of months, Conley said. Avego also works with municipalities on programs offering real-time passenger information for bus transit, and for van-pooling systems, too.
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Anything that eases congestion is a good thing. Traffic snarls cost the U.S. $87 billion each year, waste 2.8 billion gallons of gas and cause 3.7 billion hours of traffic delays. General Motors' Project PUMA, which posits tiny self-driving pod cars avoiding congestion using real-time traffic information, is a related approach to the same problem. But that's in the future. Avego says it can start cutting congestion right now.
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TELL US: Do you carpool? Would you use this app?
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.