Car 2.0: Virgin's Taxi2 Puts Travel Data to Work for Cab Sharing

taxi2-logoTaxi2, a new cab-sharing service unveiled today by Virgin Atlantic, represents a new spin on an old idea for the age of Car 2.0, in which vehicles, communication networks and information technology increasingly intersect. The free, web-based service, just launched in beta testing for Virgin’s New York and London routes, matches passengers based on their flight info and destinations.

Founded by Ed Maklouf, who also created a text messaging startup called Siine, Taxi2 is partnering with Virgin as part of the airline’s UK government-backed VJAM program. It’s not a total solution, but Taxi2 could provide a piece of the puzzle for reducing emissions from transportation by offering an alternative to airport shuttles, personal vehicles and solo cab rides for travelers.

Here’s how Taxi2 works: If you’re open to sharing a cab with someone between the airport and your hotel, for example (in either direction), you register on the Taxi2 web site. You’ll then get suggestions for “suitable traveling companions,” (women can opt to be paired only with other women) as Virgin puts it, and then you can decide whether to agree to one of the matches and arrange to meet up, via anonymous user names and email addresses. The site also provides maps to compare destinations, instructions for the taxi driver in the local language and three options for how to split the cost.

The idea of connecting strangers with online tools to share cab rides is not in itself new. Startups including Ride Amigos, CabEasy.com and Hitchsters also match passengers for shared taxi trips and rides. And earlier this year, New York City approved a pilot program to outfit 1,000 “share cabs” with LED screens and new meters to display a passenger’s destination, so others can hail the cab and hop in if they’re going in the same direction.

Pulling profit out of these free services presents hurdles, however (CabEasy says it might offer premium paid accounts with extra features in the future), so Taxi2’s pairing with Virgin — a company trying to brand itself as a cooler, more social way to travel — could be a wise bet.

An important component missing from the Taxi2 service at this point is the ability to log in, update preferences and travel information (a flight delay for example) on the go through your phone. According to Maklouf, who says in today’s release that he’s hoping for a worldwide rollout, that’s the next step. He’s now working on a version of the service for mobile devices.

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