Monday, August 06, 2007

Looking behind the car seats to find half a trillion of value

Here’s a hypothesis: One of the most interesting places to look for new business value for the mobile industry is in the other industries that can be disrupted by the selective application of mobile intelligence.

The taxi industry is one such – an industry that is crying out for a dose of efficiency (or rather, has customers that are). How many people take cabs from any airport to the city centre, while the person behind them in the cab queue is about to do the same thing? Funnily enough, it again comes down to a communication problem – make it easier for the right information to pass between the right people at the right time, and you’ve got yourselves some savings, some of which could be turned into value (the way that Skype turns saving telco bills into willingness to pay).

My colleague Stephan Hartwig published a paper earlier this year about this that’s worth a read if you’re into this stuff. The intro says it all:

There are 500+ million privately owned passenger cars worldwide, thereof 236 Million in the US. These cars travel in the magnitude of 5 Trillion km per year. Let’s assume 2 empty seats per car and a small hypothetical value of only 5 cent per km and seat, the potential value of empty travelling seats amounts to 500billion€.

Of course, there are some pretty formidable social, technical and business model challenges to plugging into these opportunities, but that's what entrepreneurs are for. I wonder where else the selective application of mobile intelligence could also have the potential for change? Government tranparency and charitable donations could be candidates, and journalism and media in general surely have lessons to offer.


Rob Neild said...

This is great implementation of 'info + info gap = solution', has big dose of 'social', and is 'green'. All the hot topics covered!

Picking up riders is currently a lottery (no 'star rating' or 'rider history') and even a simple system would remove much of the concern. Canada had a form of this 15 years ago with offices in cities, Craigslist (rideshare) is doing it informally, and startups ( are trying to do it better. But it remains unsolved and open.

I thought about it also but got worried about liability (either legal or moral) when something goes wrong. Example - I offer lifts on Craigslist. I have a very small accident. We all walkaway fine. 3 days later I get a letter from a lawyer claiming neck injury. It could happen. Hell you could even set it up! I offer fewer ride since I thought that through. I guess a formal system and some comprehensive insurance covers this scenario but I was just going to build a little maps-app and did not want to take it that far.

Good to hear that someone is though - I would certainly pick us someone hitching by SMS either for the planet, for cash, or for credits.

Eduardo said...

unfortunately I did not found the paper: NRC-TR-2007-003.pdf



Anonymous said...

Do you mean a BUS service
Personnally I like buses


Richard Pauli said...

Wonderful idea... trying to describe it better at
And it looks like some government agency should validate identity to make it work best.

Found the paper at