A few years ago, Alice Park was visiting Simon Fraser University’s parking-services office when she saw an interesting poster. It showed that more than 25 SFU parking passes were being purchased by residents of her neighbourhood every term.
Park, who graduated from the Beedie School of Business in 2012, surmised that these students were driving to school alone. In 2013, the 26-year-old Port Moody resident took action by cofounding Go2gether, the Vancouver-based technology startup behind a new ride-sharing app of the same name.
“I’ve always been very passionate about collaborative consumption and reducing wasted resources,” the Go2gether CEO told the Georgia Straight in the Chinatown building housing SFU’s Radius social-innovation lab. “So it kind of evolved from there.”
Go2gether’s web app, which entered closed beta testing in January, is being used on a trial basis by SFU, Vancity, and the Vancouver Airport Authority to promote carpooling. Organizations pay a subscription fee so their members can use the app for free.
With a Go2gether account, drivers can post one-off and recurring trips. They can then find similar trips and combine them, while passengers can browse trips in their private network and request rides. The app suggests how much passengers should compensate drivers for the cost of each ride, and these transactions are done in cash.
According to Park, Go2gether takes an average of 15 to 25 cars off the road every week in terms of SFU trips. Out of over 1,200 active users at the university, around 70 percent are drivers.
Park noted that Go2gether’s model of ride sharing is different from that of Uber, the San Francisco–based company that’s looking to mount a comeback in Vancouver after being shut down by B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board in 2012.
“They’re more like neotaxis,” Park said of Uber. “So they really challenge the status quo of taxis and the way they operate, because it’s a lot easier to go on an app and call someone close by. But the essential difference is that Uber puts more cars on the road.”
A September 2013 report prepared by Metro Vancouver says cars and light trucks were a major source of greenhouse gases (specifically carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) and smog-forming pollutants (including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) in the lower Fraser Valley in 2010.
Park asserted that Go2gether has a “huge environmental impact” because carpooling reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, traffic congestion, and demand for parking spaces. She also pointed out that Go2gether—like the Modo car-sharing cooperative—is part of the “sharing economy”. (Park stressed that Uber and the home-rental service Airbnb are not part of this, because they don’t involve a “genuine sharing of resources”.)
“There’s this huge movement where people are realizing that they don’t need to own everything,” Park said. “It’s all about the experience that they get at the end of the day. So I think, in terms of that, we’re part of something much bigger in creating that environmental impact.”
Sustainable transportation advocate Karen Quinn Fung told the Straight it’s worth noting that ride sharing isn’t new to the Vancouver area. For instance, the nonprofit Jack Bell Ride-Share vanpooling service—run by the Jack Bell Foundation with funding from TransLink—has been around since 1992 and even has an Android app.
But Fung, who’s a director of the Vancouver Public Space Network, suggested that Go2gether may attract people who are tech-savvy or don’t have consistent schedules to carpooling. She noted that, these days, many people invest a lot of time in creating and maintaining relationships via online social networking.
“I think what Go2gether has really done is try to let us see some kind of benefit through all of that activity that we’ve done—not just in the social sense of getting to know new friends or making new business connections through being able to have people recommend us, but literally helping us sort through the information of who we can turn to when we need a ride,” Fung said by phone from her Vancouver workplace.
According to Fung, there’s a “good case” to be made for carpooling complementing public transit in a sustainable transportation system.
“I think it comes down to, in the end, whether or not people feel like they can live either car-light—so having a one-car household—or car-free altogether,” Fung said. “I think ride-share is just another tool in that toolbox to help people be either car-free or car-light.”
Go2gether’s official launch is planned for September 2015. Park hopes to get more universities, colleges, and industrial parks using the app, and to expand it across Canada and internationally. Eventually, she’d like to make the app available to everyone, though that would require charging individuals rather than organizations for the service.
“We really want to solve a real problem in transportation,” Park said. “Whether it’s—10 years later—driverless cars being matched to people who need a car to go somewhere, or whether it’s public-transit services becoming more efficient and picking up people who need a ride, it’s really about eliminating empty seats in any type of vehicle—not just carpools.”