Rear view of a car driver with a dashboard-mounted smartphone using a communication platform

How a Cloud Communication Platform Can Support Public Ride-Sharing Apps

Published June 11, 2018 by Glen Kunene

When it comes to ride-sharing, most of the attention has been focused on Uber, Lyft, and other private ride-sharing apps. These services have leveraged the power of a communication platform to connect riders and drivers, primarily on a one-to-one basis for the individual transportation needs of each passenger and the income needs of each driver.

However, another class of ride-sharing apps exists that has a more public policy-oriented goal: improving transportation services for the average citizen while also defraying costs. For example, Google subsidiary Waze has launched its carpool app in Washington state. According to NW News Network, it matches riders and drivers with a few swipes based on time of departure, destination, proximity, and other factors. The goal is sharing the cost of operating a car without generating taxable income for the driver. Based on this different set of goals, the cost of Waze carpooling should be about one-quarter the cost of a standard ride-hailing service.

While it is not clear what subsidies, if any, Waze gets from the Washington state government, other carpooling apps are receiving help from high places. For example, as detailed in the NW News Network report, startup carpooling app Scoop has been funded in part by the City of Seattle. And carpooling service Zimride, owned by Enterprise and aimed at connecting coworkers and classmates at companies and universities, respectively, has partnered with the University of Washington and Washington State University to establish commuting programs for their campuses.

A Ride-Sharing App Replaces City Buses

For innovative, government-funded solutions to mass transit, the city of Arlington in Texas looks to have one of the most progressive programs. Arlington signed a one-year pilot program agreement with ride-share app Via in December 2017, replacing its city bus fleet with on-demand transportation that riders can book in real time from their smartphones, according to Travel + Leisure.

For the same typical $3 cost of a city bus fare, a rider can summon one of 10 custom Mercedes-Benz commuter vans to their location in downtown Arlington. The Via service will be able to take riders anywhere downtown: the Cultural Arts District, the University of Texas at Arlington, the Entertainment District, and the area around Arlington Memorial Hospital, according to the City of Arlington. Riders can also connect to the Dallas–Fort Worth Airport Station, where they can then catch a commuter train to Dallas or Fort Worth.

The city is subsidizing the one-year pilot program—with four one-year options to renew—to the tune of one-third of the project cost, with the remainder of the funds coming from the Federal Transit Administration. The ride-share pilot program replaces and expands the Metro Arlington Xpress commuter bus service that ended at the close of 2017.

Ride-Sharing Pioneers Go Beyond Apps, Offer Electric Vehicles

When City CarShare, one of the pioneering public benefit–oriented automobile services, joined forces with early commuting technology provider Carma (formerly known as Avego), the two organizations were able to integrate their operations in order to better serve 50,000 network members, according to 7×7. Extending a car-sharing fleet that was already one of the greenest in the U.S.—with 50 percent of the rides being electric, plug-­in hybrid, or hybrid models—City CarShare Powered by Carma (as the merged entity is known) has been working to make electric vehicles a more realistic alternative for the masses. Rates start at $5.75 per hour and rides are reserved directly through the app.

And to relieve so-called range anxiety, charging stations are now available in many locations throughout the San Francisco Bay area, the organization’s home base. When members are finished with their driving needs for a particular trip, they simply return the car to its parking space, plug it in, and continue with their day.

Ride-Sharing Community Leverages a Cloud Communication Platform

The value proposition of ride-sharing is clear—pool as many commuters into as few cars (or other vehicles) as possible to decrease costs for the riders and drivers, reduce traffic congestion, and mitigate air pollution. One of the world’s largest ride-sharing communities, BlaBlaCar, has brought this value proposition to fruition by leveraging the Nexmo SMS API in their app, which allows riders and drivers to communicate via text messages to quickly and safely arrange carpools.

“Communication is one of the pillars of reliable transportation,” Nicolas Schwartz, technical lead for BlaBlaCar, stated in DevsWorld. “When you’re arranging for a ride, you want the immediacy of text messages, especially when things change. Driver and passenger satisfaction is crucial for us.”

When drivers have extra seats available in their cars they can find riders to help share the costs of gas and tolls. These expenses are significantly pricier in Europe, where BlaBlaCar has a presence in France and other continental markets, than they are in the U.S. cities cited previously.

Whether used by private companies like Uber and Lyft or municipal public transportation services, ride-sharing apps can provide effective communication through a cloud communication platform such as Nexmo. Drivers and passengers are privately connected and can share the information they need, when and where they need it from within the context of the app.

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