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Bandwagon and RideScout: making it easier than ever to rideshare

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To make sharing a ride even more of a snap, Bandwagon is linking up with our friends at RideScout, the super cool app that gives users nearby transportation options, as it delves deeper into the world of ridesharing

From the app’s wide range of transit choices, RideScout users can now search for a Bandwagon shared ride in NYC—and soon, in more of the dozens of cities covered by RideScout. We’re excited to be integrating into RideScout alongside Carma, the carpooling app that’s bringing commuters together for shared rides in cities around the US and Europe. 

Making it easier to find a match anywhere

Wherever you are and wherever you’re going, Bandwagon can help you connect with someone nearby who is going your way so you can split the cost of any ride. At crowded places, Bandwagon can be especially useful, providing instant transportation solutions curb-side at airports and events and hubs

As ridesharing grows in popularity, Bandwagon is committed to building an open model, one that can match riders going the same way and give them access to a range of options. We’re all about real ridesharing—splitting the costs of a ride with another passenger—and we’re proud to collaborate with RideScout, which shares our vision of providing transportation options that are open, affordable and good for our cities. 

Growing our fleet in New York without adding new vehicles to the road

As demand for scheduled shared rides to and from airports and other places in New York City continues to grow, Bandwagon is committed to providing quality and reliable service while making better use of existing taxis and vehicles, rather than adding more to the streets. 

That’s why we’re rapidly growing our network of cars and drivers by working with local car services—we recently welcomed an additional 300 cars into our NYC fleet

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The power to see empty seats

An amazing number of seats in cars remain empty, while the cars that contain them leave a heavy mark on our wallets and our roads. 

We can use those seats. Giving people the power to make better use of that underutilized resource —and get where they’re going faster and cheaper—is an important tool for making our transportation more accessible and affordable and efficient. And it helps make the places we live better too. We’re committed to that idea, and we are proud to share RideScout’s vision for the future of transit: one in which we move better when we move together.

To Make Sharing Easier: Introducing Hubs and HOP Lanes

To make sharing a ride even easier, we’re adding some new points of interest to the map in your Bandwagon application—places where other passengers are likely to be traveling to and from.

We call them Hubs and HOP Lanes.

Hubs: Are designated hot spots where there are a high volume of people gathered and potentially looking for rides. A likely place to find a match.

HOP Lanes: HOP means High Occupancy Passenger—or just ‘hop.’ These are zones we establish for passengers who are already waiting in places with long, congested taxi lines.

Passengers in HOP Lanes can use Bandwagon to identify other people who are heading their way and get priority access to departing vehicles. Much like in a HOV lane on the highway, matched passengers get to go ahead and “HOP” the line.

And if you’d like to create a Hub or install a HOP Lane at your event or place of business, see bandwagon.io/events or email Mark, our director of Business Development, at mark.harrison@bandwagon.io.

Check it out now—and start sharing (more).

—Nadia

The value of connecting with people who are going the same way

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A few months ago, a group of researchers at MIT’s SENSEable City lab analyzed a year’s worth of NYC taxi rides—170 million trips—and found something fascinating: by tracing the routes of thousands of cabs, they surmised that nearly 80 percent of those trips could have been shared. That is assuming that passengers were willing to share (and, similarly, that there was a good way to connect them), and willing to travel no more than three minutes out of their way.

Just think about it, they said: if even a small fraction of those potential shared rides were shared, we could make a significant impact on the city’s congestion and pollution, which are dead weights on any city’s prosperity.

A visualization like this elaborates one of the promises of analyzing “big data” sets. If we can see the world’s invisible lines, we might also begin to shift our thinking about how we exist in the world and how we move around it.

Unlike regular vehicles, taxis are already designed as shared spaces. But, the research implied, they could be shared even better. “How might entertaining these questions be the first step in building a more efficient and cheaper taxi service?” they asked.

We’re building an answer at Bandwagon, matching riders throughout the five boroughs who are going the same way at the same time. You can use the app to dispatch a licensed taxi and find a passenger match in NYC; elsewhere, you can use Bandwagon in addition to existing taxi services, sharing a ride with another rider going your direction.

Every ride is a potential Bandwagon, open to other members nearby. Your ride is proportional to the cost of your seat, not the entire car. Your environmental footprint is closer to your size, too.

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This doesn’t just contribute to the well-being of existing taxi users and to the city as a whole. A shared taxi system might accommodate people who might be underserved by public transit, filling in transportation gaps without adding cars to the road while cutting the costs of vehicle transportation. 

Throughout the summer in New York, Bandwagon is offering special offers to new and existing users, especially at times and places where we think matches are likely. Sign up with the code MATCH to get $10 credit for use all summer long. And look for guaranteed discounts to all NYC airports on Thursdays and Fridays, and from NYC airports on Sundays. 

We’re also helping match riders in places where they tend to congregate—airports, transportation hubs, events, and companies—to cut long taxi lines and make shared transportation seamless and efficient. You can see more about that aspect of Bandwagon at bandwagon.io/events.

In future releases, we will be better demonstrating the potential for rideshares with people who are near you. For now, to get a sense of the shares waiting to be made, play around with HubCab here: hubcab.org. You can chart your regular transit routes, see how many others might be going your way, and calculate the savings in fares and carbon dioxide that come with real ridesharing.

What ridesharing really is

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Taxi hailing apps have become controversial. Like hand-wringing, subpoena-serving, rock-slinging, 10,000-car-protest controversial. “Ride-sharing” companies have been widely attacked and praised, accused of bypassing laws as they turn non-professionals into taxi drivers who can be dispatched with a few clicks. The controversy has raised critical questions for “the sharing economy” about labor, liability, and trust.

But strangely, somewhere along the way, the meaning of ridesharing itself got lost.  

Words are misused all the time, and language evolves of course. Misunderstanding ridesharing (and sharing in general) is unfortunate considering how valuable we think sharing can be to the economy—and what stands to be lost if journalists, Silicon Valley, politicians and others get it wrong.

“Ridesharing” isn’t only being misused by the media, from the New York Times to TechCrunch, from the Associated Press to the New Yorker. It’s also being misused by lawmakers as they craft new laws that are shaping the future of urban transportation.

All this disruption isn’t really about sharing. The controversy revolves around new ways of dispatching all kinds of taxis. On one hand, it’s about the old guard of the taxi industry girding itself from disruption; on the other, it’s about how the disruptors are in some cases doing their disrupting by side-stepping laws.

At Bandwagon, we think ridesharing means something different, and it’s a definition that’s actually quite common within the transportation arena: ridesharing is sharing your ride with another passenger who is going your way.

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Ridesharing, according to last year’s federal transportation bill, means offering the use of seats in your own car to other passengers along your route on a cost-reimbursement basis only. Like most things we share, ridesharing brings benefits to riders (saved time and money) and to our communities (reduced pollution and congestion). 

Ridesharing is not the same as dispatching and paying a driver to pick you up and take you somewhere, be it by raising your hand, calling a dispatcher, or using one of dozens of apps. This is hailing a taxi.

In general, taxis are a shared resource and part of a smart urban transport network. This includes luxury cars dispatched by app and peer-to-peer taxis driven by amateur drivers in their own cars. Taxis fill in gaps in public transportation and bolster it too, as David King, a Columbia University professor has observed in his research on what he calls “asymmetrical mode-share.” All in all, taxis enable us city-dwellers to give up car ownership for a transportation network that’s more affordable, efficient and better for our cities.

Still, taxis dispatched by apps are more likely to be called “rideshares” rather than “taxis,” even though they operate a lot like taxis, and they aren’t doing any more or less sharing than any other taxi does. We don’t call renting an apartment “building-sharing,” so why do we call hailing a taxi ridesharing? 

How did the term “ridesharing” come to describe an app-dispatched taxi cab? It might have been because of California law: unlike taxis, drivers who are “ridesharing” by giving people lifts to places they were already going were historically not subject to taxi rules.

By branding the new services as “ridesharing”—or at least accepting the term and using it to lobby regulators—these companies found a new way into a market from which they would otherwise be prohibited if they weren’t using that umbrella term. Now, California has a new phrase, “transportation network companies,” or TNCs, a term that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Meanwhile, the “ridesharing” moniker has stuck.

Real ridesharing is different than that. It’s a way to better use the vehicles that we have now rather than adding new cars to already crowded roads. It’s a way of getting people where they need to go cheaply and quickly, when public transit isn’t an option or when cabs are in short supply. Ridesharing is a way of improving access to the market by making taxi cabs cheaper to take, especially at high demand times, not more expensive.

At Bandwagon we’re working on real, real-time ridesharing every day. We enable passengers to book rides and get matched with other passengers in licensed taxis, car services and private vehicles. Passengers sharing taxis benefit from increased capacity and accessibility, while drivers increase earning capacity and cities reduce congestion. And instead of raising prices when demand is high, real ridesharing enables Bandwagon to lower prices.

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Real-time route matchmaking—that’s the stuff of ridesharing. Illustration by Brendan Dalton.

New York is an especially good city for ridesharing: as a study last year found, nearly 80 percent of the city’s taxi trips could have been shared, assuming that passengers were willing to travel no more than three minutes out of their way, and were willing to share—and, relatedly, that there was a good way to connect them.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that about 76 percent of drivers go to work alone, which means that most days, most of us who drive travel with at least three perfectly good empty seats next to us. “If more of us would simply pile into cars together — on our way to work, or school, or wherever — we could reduce congestion, emissions, even the need for parking,” Emily Badger wrote in April in the Washington Post. “And what’s not to like about that?”

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Taxi rides between 15th Street and Midtown in New York City demonstrate the potential for shared rides. (Via Hubcab / MIT SENSEable City Lab)

One thing we can all agree on: in general, taxis are an important part of a city’s transportation system. They improve the way we use private vehicles. If there are going to be cars in cities, taxis are a good compromise. Their utilization rates are drastically higher than private cars, in some cases 1900 percent higher. Think about the amount of time your typical urban car is used versus the amount of time it’s parked curbside, taking up valuable space (in between street cleanings, let’s be honest), and then think about how taxis are used. All the new taxi apps—us included—are hopefully helping make it easier to “use” taxis and hopefully making taxis better too. 

Taxi regulations might serve an incumbent industry, but they also exist to keep the taxi “system” working: they prevent a glut of taxis on the road, ensure that the people driving those taxis are licensed and insured, and help cities maintain a thriving fleet of trained drivers who can make a reasonable wage. Laws helped turn the taxi business from a shady industry—what the Times in 1923 called a “yellow peril”—into a powerful, reputable part of the city’s public transit infrastructure.

Given how many taxis on the road are currently underutilized—what taxi drivers call “dead head"—and given how centralized some of the control over the industry can be, taxi innovation is going to be a crucial part of our future cities. 

Part of that innovation includes finding ways to make better use of some of the empty seats in those taxis. Real ridesharing is awesome for cities. It can reduce congestion, expand public space, increase our ability to live dense and rich lives without totally screwing the one planet we have, and without unleveling the playing field.

We’re being sticklers about terminology because we see the benefits that technology and sharing in particular can bring to our cities. We know that connecting riders to share rides has the power to undo much of the damage that excess vehicle trips have done to our public space and social fabric. As cities and companies continue to fight or choose to work together in upgrading our existing transportation systems—and we are rooting for the latter—we don’t want a buzzword to ruin what we think is a positive kind of disruption to our cities’ transportation.

Alex Pasternack and David Mahfouda are co-founders of Bandwagon.

This post was edited for clarity on June 26.

Why Google Wanted Their Self Driving Car to Not Look Like a Car

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Google’s self-driving car prototype doesn’t look like a car. It very deliberately looks unlike a car.

Early development of Google’s driverless vehicle technology was done by retrofitting normal cars from established brands. Google’s in-house prototype— the first “Google Car”—doesn’t make even the slightest effort to fit in. Though the form factor is similar to city-friendly smartcars, even among them Google’s cartoonish creation would stand out, partly due to the sensor array it has on top and partly because, head-on, it looks like its smiling.

Clearly this is not an accident. It is not as if Google’s designers were trying to make a car that looks like other cars and did a poor job. It’s also not that self-driving technology dictated this particular appearance: that development continues to be done on normal-looking vehicles demonstrates this.

So Google is consciously making the statement that this thing of theirs is not like a car. It isn’t a continuous evolution from cars that came before it, like electric and hybrid vehicles that are visually indistinguishable from all-gasoline cars.

Indeed, this is meant to be a fully autonomous car, the kind that doesn’t even need a steering wheel. That’s because during their testing, Google discovered that, in an emergency, relying on humans to take over didn’t work. After awhile, humans get lazy in these cars, making them ill-prepared to take over.

Borrowing from NASA’s design approach, Google’s new car copes with such eventualities, naturally, with more computers.

“It doesn’t have a fallback to human—it has redundant systems,” Nathaniel Fairfield, a technical lead on the project, said recently. “It has two steering motors, and we have various ways we can bring it to a stop.”

A weird design is probably the smarter move for Google. There wasn’t much hope of the self-driving car debuting as something that looks just like any other car. Does this matter? I think it is a strong indication of how transformative Google thinks its driverless vehicles are. It signals a willingness to treat this project as something that will break conventions as a matter of course.

Obviously, having robots take the wheel is a break with convention. Rather than minimizing that break, Google has made a deliberate choice to embrace it, hoping we’ll bask in the weirdness of their future vision.

Dan Luxemburg, CTO at Bandwagon

New York's Transportation Future: "Moving People Rather Than Moving Automobiles"

“Moving people rather than moving automobiles” is part of New York’s mission to improve its transportation, says Alison Bishins, US project coordinator for Embarq, in this fantastic video by the transportation NGO. To that end, the city is ramping up “bicycle infrastructure across the city, introducing bus rapid transit to the Bronx, and pedestrianizing Times Square.”

But that idea lies at the heart of social transit, and of taxi-sharing, too. We already have so many cars, and for the places, times and people that bicycles and public transit can’t help, they’re going to remain useful. If we can use our street spaces more intelligently, we can also use our cars more intelligently too. 

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