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Sharing Cabs? There’s an App for That!

Leon Kaye | Monday September 13th, 2010 | 0 Comments

New York has a fleet of over 13,000 taxicabs; that total does not even include the car services (or livery), which add an estimated 40,000 cars that wind through the city’s streets. The car services are especially necessary in the boroughs, the neighborhoods of which are devoid of the iconic yellow taxis on Manhattan’s streets. Most of those cars only carry one passenger at a time, which means plenty of empty space is available for the frazzled residents and visitors who can be frustrated with the occasional difficulty of hailing a cab in the Big Apple.

One solution is on the way—it is several years too late to become a central plot in a Sex and the City episode, but it could help create a more efficient method of transit while reducing the waste of fuel and vehicle emissions. It starts with an app that you can download on your smartphone.

Weeels allows New Yorkers to order and share cabs with a few taps on a smartphone. The app helps commuters find a taxi quickly and easily, and affords drivers the opportunity to make more money while wasting less time and fuel searching for fares. It is also a great example of how technology can facilitate the sharing of scarce resources. Weeels combines the power of social networking with the opportunity to use a limited resource more effectively.

The company’s founders, David Mahfouda and Alex Pasternack, share a vision of transforming private vehicles into near public transit. If such a system can catch on, many of the most-commonly traveled thoroughfares in New York could become virtual bus routes—similar to collectivo routes that are common in Latin America. Other cities are slowly adopting similar adaptations; Carbon Voyage, for example, has organized a shared taxi system for passengers needing a lift to London’s airports, and is testing a car sharing service in partnership with Tesco. Other cities around the world, including Seoul, have long been accustomed to sharing taxicabs, especially during the dreaded shift change hours when transport is especially challenging.

For now Weeels is test driving their app with car service companies, with positive feedback from both passengers and drivers—both parties are happy with the increased efficiency yet minimal disruptions. As for New York’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, they are not on board quite yet, but a couple pilot programs are under discussion.

Between a slow economy, growing concern for the environment, and the desire to just reach a destination on time with minimal hassle, Weeels has a chance at succeeding. A change in regulations would be a huge boost. And at a time when social media and other Internet tools causes more of us to become socially inept, we may  have an opportunity to use our social skills more–we may actually have a conversation in a small space with someone we’ve never met. It sounds win-win all around.


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