I recall seeing quite a few tweets on how Olacabs works when you use their GPS-based map service. In short, you look up the map on your GPS-enabled phone, identify an Olacabs car close to your location and click on one to book it. That’s nothing short of brilliant in a country where the details of your booked cab will reach only 20 minutes prior to your travel, even when it is 4am.

That model gave me an idea for carpool. Now, I’m a non-engineer, non-techie, so please pardon my ignorance if all this sounds cockamamie!

I foresee this concept as a mobile app that requires internet connectivity with GPS.

Drivers who are up for filling empty seats install the app and enable GPS before getting into the driver’s seat. It’d also help (safety-wise) to have the phone in a  visible zone (fixed via a stand in front of the steering wheel?).

What this enables is that it shows the car as a car (car icon?) in the map, not just to the driver, but to others who have installed the app.

For someone who wants a ride, they need to instal the app too and show themselves as a ride-seeker (different icon from car). They also see cars running in the vicinity.

At a basic level, a ride-seeker looks up the map, finds cars running in the vicinity and pings it through the app. The car driver who has been pinged stops if he wants to and offers the ride.

How to complicate this plan and make it even more useful:

1. Offer ride route entry for drivers
Drivers can enter their route (start and end points, so that a route is plotted – and the driver confirms it), before starting the drive. For ride-seekers, this would help even further, obviously.

2. Community reviews, for safety
Let ride-seekers and drivers rate and review each other. I see this as a decentralized app, unlike Lyft that seeks to manage the experience centrally. So… crowdsource reviews for frequent ride offerers, bad music, bad odor, terrible drivers, badly maintained cars, perverts etc.

3. Seat-specific availability
Let drivers mark the number of seats available in their cars worth pooling. This number could show up in their cars, on the map, as the number of seats they are willing to offer.

4. Incentivize it
Allow ride-seekers to pay drivers. But this would obviously mandate an intermediary and centralize the app’s functioning.

I simply foresee this as a nice future – I step out of my house intending to head out to a nearby mall, say 5 kms away. I get my smartphone out, fire up the app and see 15 car icons with numbers on each to denote empty seats. I see them moving in real time, around me. I click on one of them closest to me, based on its route and find the car slowing down next to me in the next 2-3 minutes. I get in and get off in the mall and thank the driver.

Now, why this idea? Because I drive a sedan to work all alone. It is a waste of petrol and existing carpooling concepts make it a chore to plan and offer the service. They also perhaps don’t allow me to stick to my own routine (timing, route etc.) given the logistical issues in managing the pool process.

Can this work? Or, is it all too futuristic and is an indication that I need to read less sci-fi?

Image from this Medianama post on Olacabs.

Update 1: Manu Prasad left a comment about ZingHopper that seems to be doing something along similar lines. Here’s how it works. Pretty close, but centralized and desktop dependent, from what I see. I look at my idea solely as a mobile app with no desktop interface or even a non-map interface, but ZingHopper is a close fit from the basic idea’s perspective.

Update 2: Some context to the fact that the above idea is indeed possible. SF-based Uber does something very similar for yellow cabs in NYC. It’s a different thing that the app has been deemed illegal for a vastly different reason.