What would a commuter carpooling service that actually tapped into the real-time transparency and flexibility of the Internet look like? Well, a lot like high-tech hitch-hiking, and possibly a lot more popular and effective at getting single occupancy vehicles out of morning traffic. At least that’s the idea behind Avego (Update: formerly called Sharelift according to the DEMO info), a service officially being launched at the DEMO convention in San Diego on Monday.
The service, developed by Cork, Ireland-based company Mapflow, uses a cell phone or connected-gadget placed in commuter vehicles to pull satellite navigation info and car info via a wireless connection to develop a next-generation public transportation system. Update: Mapflow executive chairman Sean O’Sullivan tells us that the company will be focusing on its iPhone app for the DEMO launch. Mapflow calls it “shared transport,” but to us it looks a lot like carpooling brought into the always-on Internet age. The service will largely target commuters, but also could be used for taxi and other public transportation systems.
While the obvious benefit of the service (to eco-minded folks like us) may be getting any number of commuters to ditch their cars and cut carbon emissions, Avego could help battle the pinch of $4 gas, too. Mapflow estimates that out of an estimated $2-billion-per-day market of single occupancy vehicle trips, “20 percent are excellent candidates for Shared Transport.”
Mapflow has already developed a business selling consulting and technology solutions for customers interested in location-based services for vehicles in the UK. That includes partnering with municipal and federal groups on several pay-by-the mile toll and insurance programs. The company is backed by a Series A of $5.6 million and a total commitment of $11.7 million from SOSventures.
We have a lot of questions for Mapflow. We’ll be checking out the company’s presentation on Tuesday in San Diego, and will update the story. Particularly we’d like to know more about the business model — who pays for what?
Update: O’Sullivan tells us: The passengers will pay on a per mile basis, a fraction of the IRS rate per mile (IRS rate is 58.5 cents per mile, the service would cost about 30 cents per mile, or 5 to 6 times cheaper than a taxi). Mapflow directs the vast bulk of the revenue directly to the driver (85 percent of the fare)… the remainder goes to cover OTA data communication charges, SMS charges, IT infrastructure, finance charges (Visa/MC/Paypal), and our operating, marketing & R&D expenses. We feel that by directing the vast bulk of the revenue to the driver, we have a decent chance of enabling changed driver (and rider) behavior.
Update: So the company is actually launching an iPhone app — the DEMO official launch info was out-of-date.
We previously contended: Given it’s particularly difficult and expensive to sell hardware as a startup, we’re wondering if that is the best way to start off — why not create a mobile application that taps the GPS and wireless networks of phones to do something similar? (Like California Cleantech Open Finalist Goose Networks, for example.)
Mapflow is no doubt figuring out its plan of attack. The company hopes to launch in 4 weeks or so in the U.S. But out of a sea of DEMO startups building various technologies to help make life easier, more productive or more fun, we’re glad to see at least one pondering our planet.