Robin Chase is the co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar and the founder and CEO of GoLoco, a ride-sharing service that uses social networks like Facebook to connect people who want to carpool. A Harvard University Loeb Fellow, Chase is an authority on the use of wireless and mesh network technology as it applies to transportation. She'll be giving a talk at Baruch College, 151 E. 25th St., Room 759, at 9:30am on October 19th. There she'll discuss some of the ways wireless technology can facilitate near-term reduction of CO2 emissions. What follows are some excerpts from a telephone conversation last week with Sarah Goodyear.
Sarah Goodyear: Your talk at Baruch College is titled "The Window of Opportunity is Now: How Wireless Can Move Us to More Sustainable Transportation." Explain what you'll be discussing.
Robin Chase: The pitch starts with my complete horror that we have less than five years to turn worldwide CO2 emissions around. One of the senior climatologists that I refer to said if that turning point of CO2 emissions happens in 2015, i.e. seven years from now, we have a 50-50 chance of averting catastrophic effects of climate change. I personally would like to improve those odds.
When we think about the transportation world, everything is major infrastructure change: Let's build more rail, more transit, more walkable communities. Let's create more fuel-efficient cars and move to hybrids and alternative fuels. Not one speck of that work is going to have a remote impact in the time frame we're talking about. So while I think those are critical and important things for the medium run and the long run, we need more people focused on what we're going to be doing in the next five years.
SG: How does wireless fit in?
RC: From my Zipcar experience and from watching congestion pricing played out in London and Stockholm, I've learned that money -- market pricing, or accurate reflection of pricing -- is what turns people's behavior on a dime. If we're serious, that's where we have to go. Marketing is everything and wireless technologies bring us to a totally different world of possibility.
Zipcar and car-sharing is one example of how the ability to rent a car by the hour easily and therefore pay almost full car costs for that hour causes people to drive dramatically less. You don't run out and buy your quart of ice cream, because it's going to cost you ten bucks to buy that quart of ice cream. You say OK, I'll do without, I'll eat cookies, I'll pick up ice cream tomorrow.
Likewise ride sharing, which is what GoLoco is all about. There are a couple of reasons ride-sharing has been underused. One of them is stranger anxiety: I really don't want to step into a car with anybody. The rise of social networks has transformed that equation. We're all friends of friends, so we can get some level of comfort around that. Then the whole money-changing-hands piece. People think it's complicated, why bother. They think it's dirty, embarrassing and awkward. So we can do an online payment system. And the whole matching-up of people finding those rides--that's what the Internet and our wireless devices in our hands are all about. That we can make those connections relatively easily.
A screenshot of GoLoco users on Facebook
SG: How can wireless technology and mesh networks enable congestion pricing?
RC: What is shocking about the congestion pricing model that was done in London and in Stockholm and in Singapore is that those systems are creating wireless infrastructures on closed networks with proprietary devices. If we're going to spend out oodles of money for wireless infrastructure for our transportation systems for congestion pricing and for road pricing, we should be making those open networks using open standards, i.e., things that consumers and businesspeople have devices that hook up to. We'd actually do an open source communications platform. And we can transform this required investment in transportation wireless infrastructure into something that's an economic development boon and that makes information ubiquitous and very, very low cost, while we're making carbon -- the old economy -- high cost.Read more...