Thursday, November 27, 2014


Tech Talk

Rush-minute could soon end

12/25/2013

One thing that denotes a city from a major metropolitan area is an extensive mass transit system. While Des Moines’ labor force may worry about our daily “rush minute,” cities like New York and Chicago have to worry about bus and rail schedules, not to mention full-on gridlock. Maybe Des Moines will someday grow large enough to warrant a rail system of some sort, but if a recent rash of ridesharing networks has anything to do with it, it may never be necessary.

The real bane of traffic jams worldwide is single-rider vehicles, miles of four-door cars with only the driver’s seat occupied. Hoping to fill those seats with would-be carpoolers, social rideshare networks have popped up, thanks to smartphone applications such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. These applications enlist willing drivers to rent their vacant car seats to passengers. Rather than having to choose between braving roadway congestion or the horrors of public transit, riders can take advantage of today’s tech revolution and hitch a ride with someone headed the same direction.

Of course hopping in a stranger’s car probably triggers the echo of Mom’s voice inside your head, but fear not, as these apps thoroughly vet their drivers with background and insurance checks. In addition, both rider and driver can feel safe, due to the electronic nature of the arrangement. Transactions are processed through smartphone apps with credit cards, so both parties must at least reach a certain level of gadget investment and affluence of credit.

As much as these apps are gifts to forlorn travelers out there, the transit industry hates them. Uber or Lyft drivers bypass the bureaucracy of cab licensing, angering both the municipalities that require them and limo and taxi services that are mandated to purchase them. In Washington state, Seattle recently banned social rideshare networks, and in 2012 California put an embargo on the technology until a legal settlement was reached.

Sadly Des Moines is still too small for these apps to establish a fleet of local rideshare drivers. However, Lyft and Uber are accepting driver applications. So if enough people apply, rush-minute could soon become a thing of the past. CV             

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Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

Upper Iowa