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Bibliotaxi Transforms Cabs into Local Libraries

| Tuesday August 23rd, 2011 | 2 Comments

On a survey published earlier this year by NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, 31.3% of the respondents picked the Taxi TV as the worst thing about cab riding today. Although so many New Yorkers hate these TV sets, the commission’s reply is actually adding another channel with more shopping and cooking shows. Maybe the commission should learn from a taxi service in a neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil that thought there might be a better alternative to provide cab riders with: Books.

Launched earlier this month, Bibliotaxi is not just offering passengers in the Vila Madalena neighborhood in Sao Paulo another entrainment option, but is also transforming cabs into local libraries. Passengers can read any of the available books in the taxi during their ride and also have the option of borrowing a book by registering their name on a special notebook found in the taxi. Later on they can return the book to the taxi or at other city locations.

There are two goals to the project, explains Lincoln Paiva, director of the Instituto Mobilidade Verde, which initiated the project.

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The first goal is to encourage people to read more, which he finds extremely important especially today when people often read only short messages on social media channels.

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The second goal is to connect people with their community. Paiva sees it as the beginning of something much greater – “This is just a first step, because the person will share the book first – knowledge – and then the car, objects etc.,” he explained. He added that according to a survey the Institute conducted, most people in the area are working only 1.5-2 miles away from their home. “If all these people will exchange rides, for example, we will have another city, more focused on personal relationships, “he added.

This is a very interesting sharing experiment, creating a unique sharing platform, which is different from almost any other platform available today in the growing collaborative economy. It is not a worldwide book swapping community like BookMooch, a sharing service with great economic and environmental advantages but no real community added value like Zipcar, or a super-efficient online-based swap market like Swap.com. In its communal spirit and aspirations, Bibliotaxi is much more similar to Freecycle, NeighborGoods and even Neighborhood Fruit, which helps you to find and share fruit grown locally. Yet, it is still different.

First, its low-tech operations with no website connecting users or apps making it easier and more user-friendly puts Bibliotaxi automatically in a different category, populated maybe only with neighbors swapping extra produce from their backyards, or clothing swap parties. In a way, it is just like a good old-fashioned public library (before you could approach them online), where you had to come, pick your books, return the ones you finished and on your way mingle with neighbors. After all, this is what Bibliotaxi is all about, right? It’s not about reducing resource inefficiency or even reducing the environmental footprint of book consumption. It is about encouraging people to read and strengthening their community.

You might think the people behind this initiative are a bit naïve, but I’m sure that’s what people also thought of Rob Hopkins when he started the Transition Town movement or even Prof. Muhammad Yunus, when he established Grameen Bank. This is after all human nature to be a bit skeptic and even patronizing to some degree when we face this sort of value-based initiatives. Nevertheless, many successful examples show that these ideas can actually work well, especially if they manage to generate a substantial value for participants.

The taxi driver Antonio Miranda who was the first one to kick-start the project told Reuters that the first day went very well. “Today five passengers have expressed interest and took books home…Ten of my colleagues also want to participate in the project. The idea is simple and useful,” he said.

It will be interesting to see how the project develops and if the organizers will be able to get local residents to share more items and services, fulfilling their vision to “enter the culture of ‘sharing’ in Brazilian society.” I’m sure that eventually we will see ‘sharing’ getting out of the taxies, entering more online and offline spaces in Brazil. Still, taxies are an interesting place to start with, and maybe it will even give the by NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission an idea on how to improve riders’ experience in the big apple. After all even New Yorkers would probably prefer to replace the annoying TV with few good books and an option to take their favorite one with them back home.

Image credit: Bibliotaxi

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.


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