New Service Pays Drivers to Pick Up Hitchhikers





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Published on Sep 11, 2008

Using new cellphone technology, a company called Avego is hoping to turn you and your friends into a massive network of taxis. This is no fly-by-night operation, either. It's a multi-million dollar initiative that could change the transport industry.

Digital Journal TV -- From the department of Ambitious Ideas comes Avego, a company that has launched a tool to connect drivers with passengers via a new Web- and phone-based carpooling service. Think of it as a Web 2.0 hitchhiking or taxi service, of sorts, as drivers can sell a seat in their car to riders willing to pay.

The technology that connects this whole network together is nothing short of impressive: The service works with regular cellphones, allowing you to call in to the company and follow voice-prompts to tell it where you want to go. A short while later, a driver will show up and give you a lift. From the driver's perspective, you get sent a text message when Avego's system finds someone on your way to work, for example, and you can swing by and pick up a paying customer for one of those empty seats in your vehicle.

It all works through regular cellphones and the Internet, but it works better with a free downloadable application available to Apple iPhone users (set to hit the market in a few weeks in the U.S.). The iPhone app is made by Irish company Mapflow (Avego's parent company), and it uses GPS navigation and maps to guide you to a passenger waiting for a ride.

Up until now, the company has limited its service to a small alpha pilot program of 20 to 30 vehicles in Dublin, Ireland. The company has now set up shop in San Francisco and it's releasing its beta program to any place where people can download from Apple's iTunes App store.

Avego's entire system is automated, too Both a passenger and driver need a PayPal account and that's it; Avego will keep track of how far a driver carried a passenger, and the passenger's account will be debited for the trip. The driver is then compensated for the ride. No need to carry cash.

So why does Avego think its service is needed? The company said it's found a "five-seat car traveling with only a driver is inherently inefficient, and yet 85 per cent of the time, that's how cars travel in much of the world."

In an interview with DigitalJournal.com, company chairman Sean O'Sullivan said an empty seat could be worth as much as $3,000 per year to someone looking to recover part the expense of driving. From a passenger perspective, he said it can be even cheaper than taking public transit and it gets you right where you want to go.

In addition to his role at Avego, O'Sullivan is also the head of a venture capital fund, SOS Ventures. When it comes to investment in Avego, O'Sullivan told DigitalJournal.com he has $120-million fund from start-up companies he's created in the past that have been successful. Avego has been given a "substantial commitment," and it currently has 15 engineers working on the project.

Sharing a seat in your car with a rider who is willing to pay is environmentally friendly, economically smart, and could be a revolution to transportation as we know it. That is, if it works.

But a number of questions and concerns arise: Is it even legal to offer a ride for payment if you don't have a commercial license like a taxi? What about safety issues of getting in the car with a stranger? And how exactly does the technology work?

Digital Journal TV wanted to find out how this virtual hitchhiking service really works, and what the company has planned to combat criticisms and allay fears. We give you the inside scoop on one of the most intriguing new tech ideas speeding down the information and literal highway.


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